Rayleigh, Lord & William Ramsay

Argon, a New Constituent of the Atmosphere

  • First edition, first printing and a very fresh and attractive copy. The discovery of argon led to the Nobel Prize for co-discoverers Lord Rayleigh and William Ramsay.

  • "Few discoveries have been as dramatic as the discovery of argon in the atmosphere by Lord Rayleigh and William Ramsay, professor of chemistry at University College, London. The discovery of argon involved a bitter public dispute concerning the legitimacy of a chemical element whose most important characteristic was its inertness, and which forced the chemists to reassess the very notion of a chemical element" (ODNB).

  • Rayleigh had begun work to determine the densities of atmospheric gases in 1882. In 1892 he uncovered a strange discrepancy between the atomic weight of atmospheric nitrogen and nitrogen derived from ammonia. Further experiments led him to the conclusion that the extra weight represented an unknown constituent of the atmosphere, and in 1894 Rayleigh and Ramsay joined forces in an attempt to isolate it.

    "Letters were written to The Times criticizing Rayleigh's and Ramsay's work, especially their unwillingness to make public the details of their investigations. Rayleigh and Ramsay kept the details private until they were absolutely certain about the new element because they wished to receive (which they did) the Smithsonian Hodgkins prize for discoveries associated with the atmosphere. The final announcement was made at a meeting of the Royal Society at University College, London, on 31 January 1895, less than a week after Lord Kelvin in his presidential address to the Royal Society had referred to the discovery of the new constituent as the greatest scientific event of the year. Lord Kelvin chaired the meeting to which the councils of both the Chemical and the Physical Society were invited. There were 800 people present when Ramsay read the paper. Rayleigh's comment at the end was quite characteristic: ‘I am not without experience of experimental difficulties, but certainly I have never encountered them in anything like so severe and aggravating a form as in this investigation’ (Rucker, 337)" (ODNB).

  • Washington D. C.: The Smithsonian Institution, 1896. Large octavo. Original green cloth, titles to upper board gilt, yellow coated endpapers. Corners and tail of spine bumped slightly affecting leaves, else a very fresh copy in excellent condition.

Collections: Chemistry & Physics




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