William Ramsay and Morris William Travers discovered krypton in 1898. Krypton is used in certain photographic flash lamps for high-speed photography.
The Scottish chemist William Ramsay (1852–1916) is known for work that established a whole new group in the periodic table, variously called over time the inert, rare, or noble gases. In the last decade of the 19th century, he and the famous physicist Lord Rayleigh (John William Strutt, 1842–1919)—already known for his work on sound, light, and other electromagnetic radiation—carried out separate investigations, for which they received Nobel Prizes in 1904, Ramsay in chemistry and Lord Rayleigh in physics.
In 1892 Ramsay’s curiosity was piqued by Lord Rayleigh’s observation that the density of nitrogen extracted from the air was always greater than nitrogen released from various chemical compounds. Ramsay then set about looking for an unknown gas in air of greater density, which—when he found it—he named argon. While investigating for the presence of argon in a uranium-bearing mineral, he instead discovered helium, which since 1868 had been known to exist, but only in the sun. This second discovery led him to suggest the existence of a new group of elements in the periodic table. He and his coworkers quickly isolated neon, krypton, and xenon from the earth’s atmosphere.
Visit Chemistry in History to learn more about Walter Ramsey.
Excerpted with permission, Chemical Heritage Foundation