Published On: Wed, Oct 2nd, 2019

Sir William Ramsay: Who was Scottish chemist celebrated in today’s Google Doodle? | World | News

Sir William Ramsay was a Scottish chemist who discovered the noble gases and received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904 for his services in the discovery of “the inert gaseous elements in the air”. Today’s Google doodle marks the pioneering scientists 167th birthday. has compiled information about his remarkable and inspiring life.

Sir William Ramsay was born in Clifton on October 2, 1852, to William C. Ramsay, a civil engineer and surveyor, and Catherine Robertson.

He was also the nephew of notable geologist Sir Andrew Ramsay.

Sir William was educated at Glasgow Academy before he undertook an apprenticeship at Robert Napier, a shipbuilder in Govan.

But he decided instead to study Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, where he graduated in 1869.

After university, Sir William undertook practical training with chemist Thomas Anderson, famed for his work on alkaloids which led him to discover the correct structure for codeine.

Then the notable chemist travelled to Germany to study at the University of Tübingen with Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig, known for discovering the pinacol coupling reaction, mesitylene, diacetyl and biphenyl.

Sir William returned to Glasgow as Mr Anderson’s assistant and was appointed a Chemistry professor at University College of Bristol in 1879.

Two years later, he married Margaret Johnstone Marshall, the daughter of engineer George Stevenson Buchanan.

In 1887, the chemist became the chair of Chemistry at the University College London and it was at UCL where Sir William was to undertake his most pioneering work.

Between 1885 and 1890 he published a series of notable papers on the oxides of nitrogen.

In April 1894 after attending a lecture given by Lord Rayleigh, where he noted a discrepancy was discovered between the density of nitrogen made by chemical synthesis and nitrogen isolated from the air by removal of the other known components, he and Sir William decided to investigate this further.

In August Sir William told Rayleigh he had isolated a new, heavy component of air, which did not appear to have any chemical reactivity, naming this inert gas “argon”.

In subsequent years, working with Morris Travers, Sir William discovered neon, krypton, and xenon, and also isolated helium, which had only been observed in the spectrum of the sun, and had not previously found on earth.

From 1893 to 1902, he also worked with British female chemist Emily Aston, experimenting on mineral analysis and atomic weight determination, producing works about molecular surface energies of mixtures of non-associating liquids.

Additionally, in 1910 the chemist then isolated and characterised radon.

For these pioneering achievements, Sir William was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1902.

He went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry two years later.

Sir William and his wife Margaret went on to have two children together: Catherine Elizabeth and William George.

The chemist lived in Hazlemere in Buckinghamshire until his dead in 1916 from nasal cancer at the age of 63.

After his death, a blue plaque was placed in 12 Arundel Garden in Notting Hill to commemorate his life and work.

The scientist is also honoured by the Sir William Ramsay School in Hazlemere and Ramsay grease, both of which are named after him.

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