William Ramsay

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William Ramsay
William Ramsay (1903)

Sir William Ramsay (born October 2, 1852 in Glasgow , † July 23, 1916 in High Wycombe ) was a Scottish chemist .

He received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of noble gas - elements and their inclusion in the periodic table . Ramsay was honored for the discovery of the noble gases argon , krypton , xenon , neon and helium .

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

Live and act

Ramsay was born in Glasgow to William Ramsay and Catherine, b. Robertson, born. His uncle was the Scottish geologist Sir Andrew Ramsay . He studied first at the Glasgow Academy and then at the universities in Glasgow , Heidelberg (1870 with Robert Bunsen ) and Tübingen . In Tübingen he did his doctorate at Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig and was there a doctorate . In 1880 he became professor of chemistry in Bristol . In 1887 he followed the call to University College London . He worked here until 1912.

In 1881 he married Margaret Johnstone Marshall (nee Buchanan), daughter of George Stevenson Buchanan . They had a daughter and a son.

Scientific work

Ramsay first dealt with pyridine bases; In 1876 he developed a synthesis of pyridine from hydrogen cyanide (hydrocyanic acid) and acetylene. From 1877 he turned to physical chemistry. This was followed by investigations into the dissociation of metal hydroxides and the determination of the specific weight at the boiling point. First he used new methods to determine the specific gravity of a substance at its boiling point , the atomic weight of metals and the surface tension of liquids up to their critical point.

From 1887 Ramsay turned to the vapor pressure lines of organic and inorganic substances. He discovered that the gas pressure at constant volume is proportional to the temperature according to the relationship


In 1892 Lord Rayleigh reported that atmospheric nitrogen and chemically synthesized nitrogen have different densities. He had obtained the synthetic nitrogen from ammonia using a process proposed by Ramsay, but the deviation in the specific gravity was unexpected. Ramsay concluded that the air must contain another gas with a higher density. Based on the specific heat (at constant volume and constant pressure) he concluded that the gas must be monatomic. He called the completely unreactive gas argon.

The German mineralogist William Hillebrand was able to discover another unreactive gas in rocks, more precisely in uranium ores. Ramsay was able to detect clear lines spectroscopically . The spectroscopic lines of this gas in the solar spectrum had previously been observed (by Jules Janssen ). Ramsay found this gas to have an atomic weight of 4 and called it helium (1895).

Due to the newly discovered gases and their enrichment for the periodic table, Ramsay believed he could specify other noble gases and even speculated that there must be an element with an atomic mass of 20.

During this time Ramsay began working with Morris William Travers . By 1898 they found the remaining noble gases krypton, neon and xenon. Ramsay classified all noble gases in the periodic table.

After 1898, Ramsay experimented with Frederick Soddy on radium salts . They were able to detect the helium gas. With this, the dream of the old alchemists - to be able to convert atoms into other atoms - seemed to have come true. Ernest Rutherford and Soddy suggested that the conversion is related to radioactivity and that the radiation likely has mass. Together with Alexander Thomas Cameron, investigations into cancer healing with radioactive elements were carried out.

Ramsay now also presented the first equations for radioactive material conversion. He also hypothesized the structure of the atom, assuming that the nucleus is a positive ion and that the electron has an independent existence.

Ramsay considered chemistry to be the most important economic basis of a country, he coined the sentence: The country and the people, which are superior to the others in chemistry, will also be the first in terms of wealth and general prosperity.

During his work, he exposed himself to strong radioactive radiation, so that he fell ill with nasal cancer , which he eventually succumbed to.



  • Elementary systematic chemistry for the use of schools and colleges. Churchill, London 1891, (German: Short textbook of chemistry based on the latest research in science. With the assistance of the author, edited by Gerhard C. Schmidt. A. Schmidt, Anklam 1893).
  • The gases of atmosphere, the history of their discovery. Macmillan and Co, London 1896, ( digitized ; German: The gases of the atmosphere and the history of their discovery. 3rd edition. Translated into German by Max Huth. Knapp, Halle (Saale) 1907).
  • Introduction to the study of physical chemistry. Longmans, Green & Co., London 1904, ( digitized ; German: Introduction to the study of physical chemistry. German by Max Iklé. Barth, Leipzig 1908).
  • Modern chemistry. 2 volumes (Vol. 1: Theoretical. Vol. 2: Systematic. ). Dent, London 1900, (German: Moderne Chemie. 2 volumes (Vol. 1: Theoretical Chemistry. Vol. 2: Systematic Chemistry. ). Translated into German by Max Huth. Knapp, Halle (Saale) 1905–1906).
  • Elements and electrons. Harper and Brothers, London et al. 1912, ( digitized ).


Web links

Commons : William Ramsay  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Sir William Ramsay Biographical . The Nobel Foundation. Accessed January 31, 2020.
  2. ^ Lord Rayleigh: Density of Nitrogen . Letters to the Editor. In: Nature . tape 46 , no. 1196 , September 1892, ISSN  1476-4687 , p. 512-513 , doi : 10.1038 / 046512c0 (English, https://web.lemoyne.edu/~giunta/rayleigh0.html , https://archive.org/details/scientificpapers04rayliala/page/1 - The production method from ammonia was by Ramsay.): “density of nitrogen […] to two methods of preparation I obtain quite distinct values. The relative difference [...] can only be attributed to a variation in the character of the gas. "
  3. ^ List of members since 1666: Letter R. Académie des sciences, accessed on February 19, 2020 (French).
  4. ^ Member History: William Ramsay. American Philosophical Society, accessed November 5, 2018 .
  5. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed April 1, 2020 .
  6. Sir William Ramsay: A shiny Google Doodle for the 167th birthday of the chemist & Nobel Prize winner - GWB. In: GoogleWatchBlog. October 2, 2019, accessed on October 2, 2019 (German).