Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the life and work of Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsey, whose research prompted the revelation of an unknown group of elements known as the noble gases.
Who is Sir William Ramsay?
Sir William Ramsay, KCB, FRS, FRSE was a Scottish chemist who found the noble gases and got the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904 “in recognition of his services in the discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air” (alongside his colleague, John William Strutt, third Baron Rayleigh, who got the Nobel Prize in Physics that same year for their disclosure of argon). After the two men distinguished argon, Ramsay examined other atmospheric gases. His work in isolating argon, helium, neon, krypton, and xenon prompted the advancement of a new section of the periodic table.
Born in Glasgow on this day in 1852, Sir Ramsay’s work prompted groundbreaking advances in thermodynamics and nuclear physics.
Subsequent to making a trip to Germany, where he earned his doctorate at the University of Tübingen, Ramsay returned home with a notoriety for creative experimental procedures. As chair of chemistry at University College, London, he published various papers and books on liquids and vapors.
Ramsay was interested when another British physicist, Lord Rayleigh, saw that nitrogen in the earth’s atmosphere had a higher atomic weight than nitrogen in the laboratory. In 1894, he and Lord Rayleigh announced the revelation of a chemically inert gas, which they named argon.
While looking for argon, Ramsay discovered helium, which had been previously thought to exist just in the sun. Ramsay’s 1896 book The Gases of the Atmosphere anticipated the presence of at least 3 more noble gases. Decreasing air to low temperatures at high pressure, his team continued to recognize neon, krypton, and xenon, reshaping the periodic table of elements forever.
Because of their chemical inertness, noble gases demonstrated valuable from numerous points of view. For example, helium swapped combustible hydrogen for lighter-than-air travel, and argon was utilized in lightbulbs.
Depicted by numerous individuals as the “greatest chemical discoverer of his time,” Ramsay became an individual of the Royal Society in 1888, was knighted in 1902, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904.
He died in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on 23 July 1916 from nasal cancer at 63 years old and was buried in the Hazlemere parish church.