William Ramsay

Sir William Ramsay ( October 2, 1852 in Glasgow, † July 23, 1916 High Wycombe ) was a Scottish chemist. He received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the noble gas elements and their position in the periodic table. This Ramsay was honored for the discovery of the noble gases argon, krypton, xenon, neon and helium.

He also developed the basic ideas for the atomic structure of the elements and he was able to prove helium during the radioactive decay. He also developed a chemical synthesis of pyridine from hydrogen cyanide and acetylene.

Life and work

Ramsay was born in Glasgow, the son of William Ramsay, and Catherine, née Robertson. His uncle was the Scottish geologist Sir Andrew Ramsay. He studied at the Glasgow Academy and then at the universities of Glasgow, Heidelberg ( 1870 Robert Bunsen ) and Tübingen. In Tübingen, he completed his doctoral thesis at Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig and received his doctorate there. In 1880 he became professor of chemistry in Bristol. In 1887 he accepted an appointment at the University College London. Here he worked until 1912.


Ramsay dealt first with pyridine bases; In 1876, he developed a synthesis of pyridine from hydrogen cyanide and acetylene. Since 1877, he turned to physical chemistry. Followed by studies on the dissociation of metal hydroxides and the determination of the specific gravity at the boiling point. First, he appointed with new methods, the specific gravity of a substance at the boiling point, the atomic weight of metals and the surface tension of liquids up to its critical point.

In 1887 he turned to the vapor pressure lines of organic and inorganic substances. He discovered that proportional at constant volume, the gas pressure of the relationship


1894 finds Ramsay and Lord Rayleigh an unusual variation of the specific weight of synthetic nitrogen and nitrogen from the air. He concludes that the air would contain another gas of heavier specific gravity. Due to the specific heat ( at constant volume and constant pressure ), it concludes that the gas should be monatomic. He called the completely unreactive gas argon.

The American scientist Hillebrand had been able to discover from rocks another non-reactive gas. Spectroscopy may prove Ramsay distinct lines. Also in the solar spectrum ( found by Janssen ), the spectroscopic lines of this gas find. Ramsay found for this gas, the atomic weight 4 and identified it as helium ( 1895). Due to the newly discovered gases and their addition to the periodic table Ramsay believes more noble gases to be able to specify and even speculated that there must be an element with the atomic mass of 20.

During this time, Ramsay began with Morris Travers cooperate. Until 1898, they found the rest of the noble gases krypton, neon and xenon. All noble gases Ramsay arranged in the periodic table.

According to 1898 Ramsay experimented with Frederick Soddy of radium salts. They were able to demonstrate the helium gas. This seemed the dream of the ancient alchemists - to be able to convert atoms into other atoms - to be come true. Ernest Rutherford and Soddy expressed the assumption that the change is associated with radioactivity and that the radiation is likely to have a mass. Carried out together with Alexander Thomas Cameron studies on cancer cure with radioactive elements.

Ramsay now also introduces first equations for radioactive material conversion. It also provides hypotheses for atomic structure, by assuming the core is a positive ion, the electron have an independent existence.

Ramsay held the chemistry as economically important base of a country, he coined the phrase The country and the people, which is superior to the other in chemistry will also be the first in wealth and general prosperity.

In his work he was made up of strong radioactive radiation, so that he fell ill with cancer of the nose, which he finally succumbed.



  • Elementary systematic chemistry. 1891st German translation by G. Schmidt. In 1893.
  • The gases of atmosphere, the history of Their discovery. In 1896.
  • Modern chemistry. 1900th German translation in 1905.
  • Introduction to the study of physical chemistry. In 1904.
  • Elements and electrons. In 1913.