Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Discoverer of the "Noble Gases" - Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916)

William Ramsay was born in Glasgow and attended Glasgow Academy before studying at Glasgow University and the University of Tübingen. After a spell at the Anderson College in Glasgow, he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the University College of Bristol in 1879. Two years later, he married and also became Principal at the Bristol, while continuing his researches in organic chemistry and gases. In 1887 he was appointed to the prestigious chair of Chemistry at University College London.

In 1894, Ramsay attended a lecture by Lord Rayleigh, an English physicist. 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. Ramsay decided to follow this up and soon found a heavy, unknown component of air which did not have any obvious chemical reactivity. He named the gas "argon" and followed this up in the next few years with the discovery of 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.

Ramsay was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1904 "in recognition of his services in the discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air." In the same year, Lord Rayleigh received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of argon.

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