Sir William Ramsay


Sir William Ramsay

Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.

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, Rayleigh and 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, William 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, Ramsay predicted other noble gases based on the periodic table of elements and could establish the existence of neon, krypton and xenon.

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