1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ramsay, Sir William

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RAMSAY, SIR WILLIAM (1852–    ), British chemist, nephew of Sir A. C. Ramsay, was born at Glasgow on the 2nd of October 1852. From 1866 to 1870 he studied in his native city, and then went to work under R. Fittig at Tübingen. Returning to Glasgow in 1872 he became assistant in the Young laboratory of technical chemistry at Anderson's College, and from 1874 acted as tutorial assistant in chemistry at the university. In 1880 he was appointed to the chair of chemistry at University College, Bristol, becoming principal in the following year, and in 1887 he succeeded A. Williamson as professor of chemistry at University College, London. His earlier work was mainly concerned with organic chemistry, and he published researches on picoline and its derivatives in 1876–78 and on quinine and its decomposition products in 1878–79. Later his attention was taken up with questions of physical and inorganic chemistry. With Sydney Young and others he investigated the critical state and properties of liquids and the relationship between their vapour pressures and temperature, and with John Shields he applied measurements of the surface tension of liquids to the determination of their molecular complexity. In 1894 he was associated with Lord Rayleigh in the discovery of argon, announced at that year's meeting of the British Association in Oxford, and in the following year he found in certain rare minerals such as cleveite the gas helium which till that time had only been known on spectroscopic evidence as existing in the sun. In 1898 his work with Morris William Travers (b. 1872), who from 1894 had assisted him at University College, London, and in 1903 was appointed professor of chemistry at University College, Bristol, enabled him to announce the existence in the atmosphere of three new gases, neon, krypton and xenon. Turning to the study of radioactivity, he noticed its association with the minerals which yield helium, and in support of the hypothesis that that gas is a disintegration-product of radium he proved in 1903 that it is continuously formed by the latter substance in quantities sufficiently great to be directly recognizable in the spectroscope. Among the books written by Sir William Ramsay, who was created K.C.B. in 1902, are A System of Chemistry, 1891, The Gases of the Atmosphere, 1896, and Modern Chemistry, vol. i. Theoretical, vol. ii. Systematic, 1901, and he edited a series of "Textbooks of Physical Chemistry."