Rediscovery of the Elements: The Noble Gases--Rayleigh and Ramsay Page: 2 of 6
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Figure 3. The critical experiment of Rayleigh was on this balance on a marble slab in the weighing room in the basement of his laboratory complex at Terling, where
he noted the discrepency between "physical" nitrogen (from the atmosphere) and "chemical" nitrogen (synthesized from inorganic compounds).
Figure 4. Portrait of Sir William Ramsay, painted
by Mark Milbanke in 1913. This hangs in the
Ramsay Lecture Theatre Hall of the Chemistry
Building (Christopher Ingold Laboratories),
University College, London, 20 Gordon Street,
London (N51 31.52 WOO0 07.95). Ramsay was
perfectly fluent in German and French and could
lecture expertly in these languages to scientific
audiences who were spellbound by his eloquence.
only one with a specific suggestion, which
recalled Cavendish's earlier research: add oxy-
gen to the nitrogen and spark, remove the
PUI ~ - 4
Figure 5. This is Slade Hall of University College, London, now the art building but previously the Science
Building where Ramsay performed his research (Gower Court, N51 31.50 WOO0 08.03), 100 meters
southwest of the Ingold Laboratories.
resulting nitrogen oxides with caustic potash
(KOH), measure the density; repeat until the
density does not change.2
William Ramsay.6 Sir William Ramsay
(1852-1916) (Figure 4), the co-discoverer of
argon, won the 1904 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
simultaneously with Rayleigh for "the discov-
ery of the inert [noble] gaseous elements in air,
and his determination of their place in the peri-
odic system." Ramsay became professor at
University College, London, in 1887 (Figure 5),
replacing Alexander Williamson (1824-1904,
who had proved the divalency of oxygen in
1850.5b). Upon reading Rayleigh's publication in
Nature, Ramsay asked him if he could carry out
his own investigative studies on the problem.
Both agreed that the discrepancy was probably
due to a heavier impurity in the atmospheric
nitrogen, because all known lighter gases, such
as hydrogen, methane, ethylene, etc., had been
diligently removed (helium was not yet discov-
FALL 2012/THE HEXAGON
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Marshall, James L., 1940- & Marshall, Virginia R. Rediscovery of the Elements: The Noble Gases--Rayleigh and Ramsay, article, Autumn 2012; Indianapolis, Indiana. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc130206/m1/2/: accessed June 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Arts and Sciences.