On Wednesday 2nd October you may have seen the Google doodle with Sir William Ramsey (it was published to celebrate his 167th birthday):

Image credit / copyright Google.com

You may also have inferred from the doodle that William Ramsey had something to do with the noble gases (group 18)… more on this later.

William Ramsey was Scottish and was born in Glasgow on the 2nd October 1852 where he eventually went on to study chemistry at the University of Glasgow. His studies and research too him to Germany, Bristol and eventually University College London (UCL).

It was here, at UCL that Ramsey carried out some work that led to the discovery of a completely new group of elements. This, I think, is very cool. Imagining discovering not just an element but also a group of elements that nobody had known about before or even conceived.

The discovery came about at UCL when Ramsey was listening to a lecture by Lord Rayleigh. Rayleigh had noticed that there was a slight discrepancy between the density of air produced by chemical synthesis and the density of air produced when nitrogen was isolated from air.

Ramsey decided to investigate and eventually isolated the gas. But he could not do anything with it – it would not react. Ramsey named the gas Argon from the Greek word Argos or lazy / slow. Further research also led him to discover Neon, Krypton, Xenon and eventually Radon (but not Helium – we needed the sun for this) and this research culminated in him being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904.

Noble gases are remarkable – they do not react with anything (with the exception of Xenon which has produced XeF4, Xenon Tetrafluoride) and therefore can be put to many uses (for example, protective atmospheres or inside light bulbs).However, they are not common and are therefore still expensive to extract from the air.

Today we also know about the existence of one more noble gas –the newly named Oganesson (Og) – the element with the greatest relative atomic mass (at this point in time) in the periodic table. One does wonder what Ramsey would think of this approximately 120 years after his discovery of Argon.

Do you have any chemists that inspire you or that you think have carried out some cool research? If you do, please feel free to post them below as I would love to hear about them.

This article was adapted from the following webpage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Ramsay