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William Ramsay

William Ramsay

William Ramsay
BornOctober 2 1852(1852-10-02)
Glasgow, Scotland
DiedJuly 23 1916 (aged 63)
High Wycombe, Bucks., EnglandFeald PooP
ResidenceUnited Kingdom
Nationality Scottish
InstitutionsUniversity of Bristol (1880–87)
University of London (1887–1913)
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
University of Tübingen
Academic advisor  Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig
Notable students  Edward Charles Cyril Baly
James Johnston Dobbie
Jaroslav Heyrovský
Known forNoble gases
Notable prizes Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1904)

Sir William Ramsay (October 2, 1852 – July 23, 1916) was a Scottish chemist who discovered the noble gases and received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904 "in recognition of his services in the discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air" (along with Lord Rayleigh who received the Nobel Prize in Physics that same year for the discovery of argon).

Ramsay was born in Glasgow, the son of William Ramsay, C.E. and Catherine, née Robertson. He was a nephew of the geologist Sir Andrew Ramsay.

He attended school as a child at The Glasgow Academy and then continued his studies at the University of Glasgow under Thomas Anderson and then went to study in Germany at the University of Tübingen with Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig where his doctoral thesis was entitled "Investigations in the Toluic and Nitrotoluic Acids". He returned to Glasgow as Anderson's assistant at the Anderson College. He was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the University College of Bristol in 1879 and married Margaret Buchanan in 1881. In the same year he became the Principal of the Bristol and somehow managed to combine that with active research both in organic chemistry and on gases.

In 1887 he succeeded Alexander Williamson to the prestigious chair of Chemistry at University College London. It was here that his most celebrated discoveries were made. As early as 1885–1890 he published several notable papers on the oxides of nitrogen developing the skills that he would need for his subsequent work.

On the evening of April 19th 1894 Ramsay attended a lecture given by Lord Rayleigh. Rayleigh had noticed a discrepancy between the density of nitrogen made by chemical synthesis and nitrogen isolated from the air by removal of the other known components. After a short discussion he and Ramsay decided to follow this up. By August Ramsay could write to Rayleigh to announce that he had isolated a heavy component of air previously unknown which did not appear to have any obvious chemical reactivity. He named the gas "argon". In the years that followed he discovered neon, krypton, and xenon. He also isolated helium which had been observed in the spectrum of the sun but had not been found on earth. In 1910 he also isolated and characterized radon.[1]

Ramsay’s high standing in scientific circles led to his unfortunate endorsement in 1905 of the Industrial and Engineering Trust Ltd., a corporation with a supposed secret process to extract gold from sea water. The corporation bought property along the English coast to implement the gold-from-seawater process, but the company quickly faded from public view, and never produced any gold.

He lived at Hazelmere, Buckinghamshire until his death. He died at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on July 23 1916 from nasal cancer and was buried at Hazelmere parish church.

The current upper school Sir William Ramsay School, based in Hazlemere in High Wycombe, is named after him and was built in 1976.


  1. ^ W. Ramsay and R. W. Gray (1910). "La densité de l’emanation du radium". C.R. Hebd. Séances Acad. Sci. 151: 126-128.
  • Morris Travers (1956). The Life of Sir William Ramsay. ISBN 978-0713121643. 
  • Yves Jeannin (2005). "Une lettre inédite de sir William Ramsay sur la découverte de l’argon (An unedited letter of Sir William Ramsay on the discovery of argon)". Comptes Rendus Chimie 8 (1): 3-7. doi:10.1016/j.crci.2004.11.018.
  • John Meurig Thomas (2004). "Argon and the Non-Inert Pair: Rayleigh and Ramsay". Angewandte Chemie International Edition 43 (47): 6418 - 6424. doi:10.1002/anie.200461824.
  • Lord Rayleigh; William Ramsay (1894 - 1895). "Argon, a New Constituent of the Atmosphere.". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 57 (1): 265-287.
  • Theodore W. Richards (1917). "Sir William Ramsay, K. C. B.". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 56 (1): iii-viii.

NAME Ramsay, William
DATE OF BIRTH October 2, 1852
PLACE OF BIRTH Glasgow, Scotland
DATE OF DEATH July 23, 1916
PLACE OF DEATH High Wycombe, Bucks., England
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "William_Ramsay". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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