30 Mar 2011
English Heritage recently unveiled a blue plaque in honour of notable chemist and SCI past President Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916). The plaque was unveiled on 9 February at Ramsay's home at 12 Arundel Gardens, Notting Hill, London, in a well-attended event held in association with the London Regional Group. Arundel Gardens was Ramsay's home for 15 years, and it was while living there that he made his historic discovery of five of the noble gases. The unveiling was followed by a cycle ride along Ramsay's famous route from Arundel Gardens to the Gower Street chemistry laboratories of University College London - a feat which Ramsay reportedly managed in just 18 minutes.
The programme of events continued at UCL's department of chemistry, with talks on the life of Ramsay and his contemporaries from Professor Alwyn Davies, Dr Neil Todd and Professor William Block, who each shared their unique insights into the real story of this scientific pioneer. In addition, the department played host to a fascinating exhibition of artefacts, including various items of laboratory equipment used by Ramsay in his experimental work.
Ramsay's pioneering experiments led to him justifiably being described as 'the greatest chemical discoverer of his time'. His discovery of five of the six inert or noble gases - argon, helium, krypton, neon and xenon - brought him international recognition. He was knighted in 1902, and in 1904 became the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Dr Andrea Sella, inorganic chemist at UCL chemistry department, and proposer of the plaque, said: 'Ramsay was a groundbreaking chemist and built up an outstanding research department at UCL. Nicknamed 'the Chief', he was an inspirational teacher and revered by his students. He maintained that his greatest contribution to science was not the chemistry, but the chemists that he had produced.'