Sir William Ramsay was an eminent British physical chemist who is credited with the discovery of argon, krypton, neon and xenon. He also demonstrated that these gases, along with helium and radon, makes the noble gases; a family of new elements. Ramsay won the 1904 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his extraordinary efforts.
Early Life and Education:
Born in Glasgow, Scotland on October 2, 1852, William Ramsay’s father was a civil engineer, while his uncle, Sir Andrew Ramsay, was the famous geologist.
After receiving early education at the Glasgow Academy, Ramsay attended the University of Glasgow under Thomas Anderson, the prominent chemist. He earned his doctorate at the University of Tübingen. Ramsay then became Anderson’s assistant at the Anderson College. He was appointed the Professor of Chemistry at the University College of Bristol in 1879.
Contributions and Achievements:
After taking over the chair of Chemistry at University College London, William Ramsay made several important discoveries and wrote many scientific papers regarding the oxides of nitrogen. Drawing inspiration from Lord Rayleigh’s 1892 discovery that the atomic weight of nitrogen found in the atmosphere was higher than that of nitrogen found in the atmosphere, Ramsay discovered a heavy gas in atmospheric nitrogen, and named it argon. One year later, he liberated helium from a mineral called cleveite.
While working with chemist Morris W. Travers in 1898, Ramsay isolated three more elements from liquid air at low temperature and high pressure, and termed them as neon, krypton, and xenon. In collaboration with another chemist, Frederick Soddy, in 1903, Ramsay showed that helium, together with a gaseous emanation called radon, is consistenly generated during the radioactive decay of radium. This discovery had a profound influence on the field of radiochemistry.
Later Life and Death:
William Ramsay was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1888, and was knighted three years later, in 1902. He also worked as a president of the Chemical Society, and the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Ramsay died of nasal cancer on July 23, 1916 in Buckinghamshire, England. He was 63 years old.