Sir William Ramsay
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1904
Born: 2 October 1852, Glasgow, Scotland
Died: 23 July 1916, High Wycombe, United Kingdom
Affiliation at the time of the award: University College, London, United Kingdom
Prize motivation: "in recognition of his services in the discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air, and his determination of their place in the periodic system."
Prize share: 1/1
William Ramsay received his basic education in Glasgow before traveling to Germany to earn a doctorate in organic chemistry. At that time Germany was the world leader in research, so Ramsay's study path was not unusual. Eventually he became a professor at University College of London. After hearing a lecture by Lord Rayleigh, he began studying gases, which led to his discovery of noble gases. For their collaboration, Lord Rayleigh and William Ramsay each were awarded a Nobel Prize in the same year, in physics and chemistry respectively.
The air around us consists of several different gases, mostly nitrogen gas and oxygen. Through weight comparisons between air and nitrogen gas formed in chemical processes, Wiliiam Ramsay, along with Lord Rayleigh, showed in 1894 that air also contained an element unknown up to then, which was given the name argon. It does not react with other elements but is a noble gas. After discovering another noble gas, helium, Wiliiam Ramsay predicted other noble gases based on the periodic table of elements and could establish the existence of neon, krypton and xenon.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.