Since the properties of an element are mostly determined by its electron configuration, the properties of the elements likewise show recurring recurring patterns or periodic behaviour, some examples of which are shown in the diagrams below for atomic radii, ionization energy and electron affinity. It is this periodicity of properties, manifestations of which were noticed well before the underlying theory was developed, that led to the establishment of the periodic law (the properties of the elements recur at varying intervals) and the formulation of the first periodic tables.
Atomic number plotted against atomic radius[n 4]
Atomic radii vary in a predictable and explainable manner across the periodic table. For instance, the radii generally decrease along each period of the table, from the alkali metals to the noble gases; and increase down each group. The radius increases sharply between the noble gas at the end of each period and the alkali metal at the beginning of the next period. These trends of the atomic radii (and of various other chemical and physical properties of the elements) can be explained by the electron shell theory of the atom; they provided important evidence for the development and confirmation
The electrons in the 4f-subshell, which is progressively filled across the lanthanide series, are not particularly effective at shielding shielding the increasing nuclear charge from the sub-shells further out. The elements immediately following the lanthanides have atomic radii that are smaller than would be expected and that are almost identical to the atomic radii of the elements immediately above them. Hence hafnium has virtually the same
atomic radius (and chemistry) as zirconium, and tantalumhas an atomic radius similar to niobium, and so forth. This is known as the lanthanide contraction. The effect of the lanthanide contraction is noticeable up to platinum (element 78), after which it is masked by a relativistic effect known as the inert pair effect. The d-block contraction, which is a similar effect between the d-block and p-block, is less pronounced than the lanthanide contraction but arises from a similar cause.