The Great Scot who won Olympic gold and inspired the film, Chariots of Fire


Without doubt one of Scotland’s greatest sporting heroes, Eric Liddell, owes much of his fame more to a race he didn’t run than any he did. However, the uplifting manner in which he lived his life, as portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire, truly marks him as one of the greatest of Scottish heroes.Eric Henry Liddell, like many Scottish sporting heroes, was not actually born in the country he was to represent with such distinction. Liddell was born on the 16 January 1902 in the city of Tientsin (now Tianjin) in north-eastern China, the son of missionary parents working for the Church of Scotland.

In fact, Liddell was not to find himself living in Scotland unit he entered Edinburgh University in 1920, after 12 years at Eltham College boarding School in Surrey, a school specifically for the children of missionaries. His headmaster at Eltham was to remember Liddell as a boy “entirely without vanity”.

When Eric joined his elder brother Rob at Edinburgh it was to study a BSc in Pure Science. However, test tubes and beakers were never to provide anything like the stimulus that pulled the young Eric in two differing directions – a missionary zeal and an intense talent for sport – both of which were to radically shape the destiny of this young man.
At first, Liddell seemed destined for a career with the oval ball, displaying enough talent at wing three quarter to win seven international caps between 1921 and 1923. Indeed, it is interesting to speculate that Liddell could also have appeared in this website as a member of the 1925 Grand Slam-winning side. However, his life was to follow a different pattern, as, realising there was not time enough in the day for both sports, he chose to concentrate on running – a decision that was to take him to the heights of athletics.

In the early 1920s, Liddell established himself as one of the country’s top runners, regularly scooping not only the Scottish 100- and 220-yard sprinting tiles, but also in the 440-yard contests, a fact often overlooked later. Liddell was also successful in British competition, winning the shorter sprint distances at the Triangular International Contests in 1921, 1922 and 1923, this competition showcasing athletes from Scotland, England and Ireland.

This success made Liddell a dead cert for inclusion in the British Olympic squad which set sail for Paris in 1924, and although he was strongly fancied as a contender in the 100 metres event, he was not destined to race in this, his strongest event.

Due to his religious principles, Liddell refused to run in the 100m heats, which were held on a Sunday (Liddell instead spent that particular Sabbath preaching in the Scots Church in Paris). Instead, the Scot elected to run in 400 metres, a distance in which he was a good performer, but certainly not his forte.

He faced a strong field in that distance, in particular from the American team, one of whom, Jackson Schulz, has bested Liddell in the 200m, and had also to contend with some negative press from some quarters of the British camp, who could not understand his placing God above winning a medal for the King. Liddell was to some extent even helped by the American attitude, as their coach had instructed their runners not to worry about the Scot, who he was sure would burn out after 200m.

Liddell, however, was ready for the challenge, and, after sportingly shaking the hands of each of his competitors, the “Flying Scotsman” was off. An impeccable run saw the Scot not only collecting gold by a margin of some six metres, but also seting a world record of 47.6 seconds in the process.

Perhaps Liddell’s own words can best describe how he came to triumph on that day in Paris “The secret of my success over the 400m is that I run the first 200m as fast as I can. Then, for the second 200m, with God’s help I run faster.”

Many aspects of the film Chariots of Fire were mythologised: Liddell knew that the 100m heats would be on a Sunday six months before the race, and in fact it was Liddell who introduced Harold Abrahams to professional trainer Sam Mussabini.

However, this should not detract from Liddell’s achievement – to win in a race at a distance you are not familiar with is no mean feat, to do it to win Olympic Gold something else again, and to set a world record in the process raises the feat to the incredible.

After his Olympic triumph Liddell threw himself headlong into missionary work, returning to China in 1925, to Tientsin, where he was ordained a minister in 1932. He married Florence Mackenzie two years later, with whom he had three daughters. With the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, Eric was now in Siaochang – occupied territory. In 1941 the British Government advised all British nationals in China to leave and Eric’s family moved to Canada, while Liddell himself remained in China. In 1943 Liddell was interned by the Japanese authorities in a camp at Weishien.

Life in the internment camp was hard, under a brutal regime. Some inmates, mainly oil company executives, managed to bribe the guards into receiving extra rations and luxury goods. Liddell shamed them into sharing these with the rest of the camp inmates. Liddell also, for the first time in his life, indulged in sporting activity on Sundays, refereeing football matches in the camp.

Unfortunately, Liddell was not destined to survive the war. He suffered a brain tumour shortly before the war’s end, and died in the camp.

Upon his death, Liddell’s grave was marked by a simple wooden cross, with his name written on it in boot polish. However, the site was identified many years later, and Edinburgh University erected a stone of Mull granite there in 1991. However, perhaps a tribute that Liddell himself would have more appreciated, was the setting up of the Eric Liddell centre in the old North Morningside Church at “Holy Corner” in Edinburgh.

The Great Scot who founded the Boys Brigade


Sir William Alexander Smith (27 October 1854 – 10 May 1914), the founder of the Boys’ Brigade, was born in Pennyland House, Thurso, Scotland. He was the eldest son of Major David Smith and his wife Harriet. He and his siblings formed a family of three sons and one daughter.
As a boy, William Smith was educated at the Miller Instituition, known as the “Thurso Academy”. Following his father’s death, his family moved to Glasgow. In early January 1869, William Smith became a pupil in a private school, The Western Educational Institution, more widely known as “Burns’ and Sutherland’s School”. In this first and only term there, he took seven prizes. His time in the institution was short-lived as he ended his school days late in May, at the age of fourteen and a half.

Nonetheless, Smith did not cease his education altogether. His writings in a notebook indicated that he continued to take French classes after joining his uncle’s business. 

In October 1869, a few days before he became fifteen, William Smith entered his uncle’s business. Alex. Fraser & Co. were wholesale dealers in “soft goods”, shawls being of 19, he was promoted to the rank Lance-Corporal. He also joined the Church of Scotland in that same year.
Smith was commissioned into the Rifle Volunteers in 1877 and promoted to Lieutenant later the same year. He also became a Sunday School teacher. It was a combination of these two activities that led him to start the Boys’ Brigade on 4 October 1883 at Free Church Mission Hall, North Woodside Road, Glasgow. In 1909 he was knighted by King Edward VII for his services to children. He also eventually reached the rank of Major in the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers.

He died on 14 May 1914 in London. He was buried in Glasgow. There is a memorial stone in honour of him in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, and in St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh. 

The Great Scot who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences


Sir James Alexander Mirrlees FRSE FBA (born 5 July 1936) is a Scottish economist and winner of the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. He was knighted in 1998.Born in Minnigaff, Kirkcudbrightshire, Mirrlees was educated at the University of Edinburgh (MA in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1957) and Trinity College, Cambridge (Mathematical Tripos and PhD in 1964 with thesis title Optimum planning for a dynamic economy supervised by Richard Stone), where he was a very active student debater. One contemporary, Quentin Skinner, has suggested that Mirrlees was a member of the Cambridge Apostles along with fellow Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen during this period.[citation needed] Between 1968 and 1976, Mirrlees was a visiting professor at MIT three times. He taught at both Oxford University (1969–1995) and University of Cambridge (1963– and 1995–).

During his time at Oxford, he published papers on economic models for which he would eventually be awarded his Nobel Prize. They centred on situations in which economic information is asymmetrical or incomplete, determining the extent to which they should affect the optimal rate of saving in an economy. Among other results, they demonstrated the principles of “moral hazard” and “optimal income taxation” discussed in the books of William Vickrey. The methodology has since become the standard in the field.

Mirrlees and Vickrey shared the 1996 Nobel Prize for Economics “for their fundamental contributions to the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information”.

Mirrlees is also co-creator, with MIT Professor Peter A. Diamond of the Diamond–Mirrlees efficiency theorem, developed in 1971.

Mirrlees is emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He spends several months a year at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is currently the Distinguished Professor-at-Large of The Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as University of Macau. In 2009, he was appointed Founding Master of the Morningside College of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Mirrlees is a member of Scotland’s Council of Economic Advisers. He also led the Mirrlees Review, a review of the UK tax system by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

His Ph.D. students have included eminent academics and policy makers like professor Franklin Allen, Sir Partha Dasgupta, professor Huw Dixon, professor Hyun-Song Shin, Dr Thomas Renström, Lord Nicholas Stern, professor Anthony Venables, Sir John Vickers, and professor Zhang Weiying.[citation needed]

The Great Scots who signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776


It has been written that America owes a hefty dose of gratitude to the many Scottish ancestors who helped mould the new nation. One of the leaders of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry, was of Scots ancestry. Another was Alexander Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury.
There are two other people, however, who deserve special mention. The only Scottish-born signers of the Declaration of Independence – a clergyman and a noted legal scholar – came to America in the mid-18th century and played significant roles in shaping two of the country’s key institutions.

Rev John Witherspoon was the only ordained clergyman to sign the historic document. He was born at Gifford, East Lothian, and graduated from Edinburgh University. Witherspoon became a parish minister in Beith, Ayrshire, then Paisley, Renfrewshire, before emigrating to the colonies in 1768.

Witherspoon is credited with raising the profile of one of the great American schools of higher learning. He became the sixth president of the College of New Jersey – now known as Princeton University, an icon of Ivy League education. At first he declined the job because his wife was reluctant to join him from Scotland, but a second offer persuaded the couple.

While Thomas Jefferson is credited with imploring a separation between church and government activities, there is no doubt Witherspoon’s ideas from his Scottish Enlightenment days helped to influence a climate for religious pluralism in the US. Among his students at Princeton were a future president and vice-president, as well as 60 members of the US Congress and three Supreme Court justices.

The other Scottish signatory was quite familiar with the High Court. James Wilson was born near St Andrews, Fife, where he attended university. He also went to university in Edinburgh and Glasgow but, surprisingly, never graduated. He left for America in 1765 and obtained a job at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League school), where he would receive an honorary degree.

Wilson was admitted to the Philadelphia bar in 1767 and most notably wrote a legal opinion saying that, unless Americans had representation in the British parliament, London had no authority over them. This argument – no taxation without representation – was the basis for the colonies to break away from Britain. 

In 1775 he gave a speech that, in essence, discussed the principle of Judicial Review, the system in America in which laws can be checked against the constitution. This later evolved into the Supreme Court, of which Wilson himself became as associate justice.

Wilson, a strict legal man, nearly did not sign the declaration because the people he represented were divided over the issues. However, once he agreed to sign, it broke the deadlock in the Pennsylvania delegation.

The Great Scot who founded the publishing company that gave birth to the Broons, Oor Wullie, the Beano and the Dandy


David Coupar Thomson (23 May 1861 – 12 December 1954) was the proprietor of the newspaper and publishing company D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd.
Thomson was born in Dundee, Scotland to William T and Margaret C Thomson. He went to Newport-on-Tay Primary School in Fife and then to the High School of Dundee. At 16 years of age, he was sent to the family shipping business in Glasgow.

His father, William Thomson, was a successful draper and later a shipowner, and in 1884 became the major shareholder of the Dundee Courier & Daily Argus. In 1886, at his father’s request, David Coupar Thomson moved back to Dundee to become the general manager of the paper. The other son, Frederick, joined the company in 1888.

In 1905, D.C. Thomson Ltd. was founded with £60,000 capital. William, David and Frederick had all but four of the company shares which were valued at £10 per share. Each wife had an allocation of one share; the remaining share belonged to Frances Thomas Mudie.

When Frederick died in 1917, D.C. became the sole proprietor of the company. Between 1920 and 1922, he actively campaigned using vitriolic rhetoric against one of the two M.P.s for Dundee, the Liberal politician Winston Churchill. At one meeting, Churchill was able to speak for only 40 minutes when he was barracked by a section of the audience. At the General Election of 1922 both of the local newspapers owned by Thomson, the Liberal supporting “Dundee Advertiser” and the Conservative inlined “Courier” advised their readers to reject Churchill. Subsequently, Churchill came only fourth in the poll and lost his seat at Dundee to prohibitionist, Edwin Scrymgeour, quipping later that he left Dundee “without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix”. Thomson barred Churchill’s name from his newspapers until World War II made occasional use of it unavoidable.

During the General Strike of 1926, most employees of his publishing concern were members of National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants (Natsopa). David Coupar Thomson was outraged by the strike and the effect it had on his business. Earlier in 1926, his company took over the rival company John Lang & Co. which produced the “Dundee Advertiser”. The strike coincided with the merger. After the strike, Natsopa members were allowed to return provided the members signed a document to say that they had left the union and tender an apology. In March 1952, a strike was caused when a man who had worked for the company since 1921 was discovered to have secretly joined Natsopa in 1939.

Although Thomson was less involved with the company after 1933, he remained chairman of the company until his death, aged 93, in 1954; but it was his nephew, Harold, who drove the expansion of its publishing interests, particularly in the field of comics. The Sunday Post, launched in 1914, introduced a “Fun” section in 1936 which became home to iconic cartoon characters such as Oor Wullie and The Broons. The Dandy — which included Desperate Dan — first appeared in the following year, and The Beano eight months later, offering a free “Whoopee Mask” with its first issue.

D.C. Thomson married Margaret McCuloch and had a daughter, Irene Elma Coupar Thomson. In Dundee he was Deputy Lieutenant for 50 years, Governor of University College for nearly 60 years and was also an active member of Dundee Chamber of Commerce and Dundee Eye Institute. He is buried at Western Cemetery, Dundee.

The Great Scot who won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Economics 


Sir Angus Stewart Deaton, FBA (born 19 October 1945) is a British-American economist. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.Deaton was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and educated as a foundation scholar at Fettes College. He earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Cambridge, the last with a 1975 thesis entitled Models of consumer demand and their application to the United Kingdom, where he was later a fellow at Fitzwilliam College and a research officer working with Richard Stone and Terry Barker in the Department of Applied Economics.

In 1976 Deaton took up post at the University of Bristol as Professor of Econometrics. During this period, he completed a significant portion of his most influential work. In 1978, he became the first ever recipient of the Frisch Medal, an award given by the Econometric Society every two years to an applied paper published within the past five years in Econometrica. In 1980, his paper on how demand for various consumption goods depends on prices and income was published in The American Economic Review. This paper has since been hailed as one of the twenty most influential articles published in the journal in its first hundred years.

In 1983, he left the University of Bristol for Princeton University. He is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs and Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (WWS) and the Department of Economics at Princeton. He holds both British and American citizenship.

In October 2015 it was announced that Deaton had won that year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The BBC reported that Deaton was “delighted” and that he described himself as “someone who’s concerned with the poor of the world and how people behave, and what gives them a good life”. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that economic policy intended to reduce poverty could only be designed once individuals’ consumption choices were understood, saying, “More than anyone else, Angus Deaton has enhanced this understanding. By linking detailed individual choices and aggregate outcomes, his research has helped transform the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and development economics”. New York University economist William Easterly said, “What was impressive about this Nobel is how many different fields Angus has contributed to”. Easterly noted Deaton’s bravery in the face of the political aspects of his research area and the “tortuous details” involved in his work, adding: “No one accuses him of having an agenda on these questions, and there are a lot of people in this field who do have an agenda”.

The Great Scot whose work on nucleotides won him the 1957 Nobel Prize for Chemistry


Sir Alexander Robertus Todd was born in Glasgow on October 2, 1907, the elder son of Alexander Todd, a business man of that city, and his wife Jean Lowrie. He was educated at Allan Glen’s School and Glasgow University, where he took his B.Sc. degree in 1928 and, after a short initial research training with T.S. Patterson he proceeded to the University of Frankfurt-on-Maine. Here he studied under W. Borsche and obtained his Ph.D. (Dr.Phil.nat.) in 1931 for a thesis on the chemistry of the bile acids.
Returning to England he worked from 1931-1934 on anthocyanins and other colouring matters with Sir Robert Robinson, the Nobel Prize winner, and took a Ph.D. degree at Oxford University in 1933.

Todd went back to Scotland in 1934 when he joined the staff of Edinburgh University under G. Barger. Two years later, i.e. in 1936 he moved to the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, Chelsea, and became Reader in Biochemistry in the University of London in 1937.

In 1938 he was appointed as Sir Samuel Hall Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Chemical Laboratories of the University of Manchester, which position he held until 1944, when he accepted an appointment as Professor of Organic Chemistry at Cambridge University and Fellow of Christ’s College. 

Todd took considerable interest in international scientific affairs; he was President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and Chairman of the British National Committee for Chemistry. He served on many Government Committees and in 1952 was elected Chairman of the British Government’s Advisory Council on Scientific Policy. He was a Managing Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation.

The main subjects of Todd’s researches were the chemistry of natural products of biological importance and, in addition to the nucleotide and nucleotide coenzyme studies described in his Nobel Lecture, the chemistry of vitamins B1, E and B12, the constituents of Cannabis species, insect colouring matters, factors influencing obligate parasitism and various mould products.

Knighted in 1954, he was raised to the Peerage in March, 1962, being created Baron Todd of Trumpington.

The Great Scot whose work on nutrition won him the 1949 Nobel Peace Prize


John Boyd Orr (September 23, 1880-June 25, 1971) was born in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire, Scotland. His father, R.C. Orr, was a pious and intelligent man whose sudden enthusiasms led to frequent reversals of fortune, but, although his finances were often depleted, he and his wife and their seven children enjoyed a pleasant life in their rural community. Having begun his education in the village school, John at the age of thirteen was sent to Kilmarnock Academy, twenty miles away, but he was more interested in the life of the navvies and quarrymen who worked in his father’s quarry than in his education and so was returned to the village school. There he became a member of the staff as a «pupil teacher», earning £20 a year by the time he was eighteen.
Aided by scholarships, he was able to attend simultaneously a teachers’ training college and Glasgow University. Of these student days he says in his autobiography that he worked hard in the arts curriculum but that his most vivid recollections are of the sights and sounds of the old Glasgow slums which he would prowl on Saturday nights1.

Finding the three years he spent teaching in a secondary school neither financially profitable nor intellectually satisfying, he returned to Glasgow University in 1905, enrolling for a degree in medicine and for one in the biological sciences. Degrees in hand in record time, he served as a ship’s surgeon for four months and for six weeks as a replacement for a vacationing doctor, but he forsook the practice of medicine for research, accepting a two-year Carnegie research fellowship in physiology.

On April 1, 1914, Dr. Boyd Orr arrived in Aberdeen to assume direction of the Nutrition Institute, only to be told that there was no Institute in reality, only an approved scheme of research. Within a month, Boyd Orr had drawn up plans for an impressive research facility, too impressive, indeed, to be financed. The compromise he made is symbolic of the nature of the man: he was willing to delay the building of the total structure provided that the first wing be made of granite, not of wood as originally suggested.

His work was interrupted by World War I during which he served first in the Royal Army Medical Corps, earning two decorations for bravery in action, then in the Royal Navy, and finally, simultaneously in both, for he was loaned by the Navy to the Army to do research in military dietetics.

After the war Boyd Orr returned to the Institute and in the next decade or so, put to work a hitherto unsuspected talent for money raising. The first new building of Rowett Research Institute – the name now given to the Institute in honor of a major donor – was dedicated by Queen Mary in 1922; there followed the Walter Reid Library in 1923-1924, the thousand-acre John Duthie Webster Experimental Farm in 1925, Strathcona House, to accommodate research workers and visiting scientists, in 1930. In 1931 he founded and became editor of Nutrition Abstracts and Reviews.

Time-consuming as his various administrative duties were, he was still able to direct fundamental research in nutrition, primarily in animal nutrition in these early days of the Institute. His influential Minerals in Pastures and Their Relation to Animal Nutrition (1929) was published in this period. During the 1930’s, however, after extensive experiments with milk in the diet of mothers, children, and the underprivileged, and after large-scale surveys of nutritional problems in many nations throughout the world, Boyd Orr’s interests swung to human nutrition, not only as a researcher but also as a propagandist for healthful diets for all peoples everywhere. His report of 1936, Food, Health and Income, revealed the «appalling amount of malnutrition» among the people of Great Britain regardless of economic status2 and became the basis for the later British policy on food during World War II, which he helped to formulate as a member of Churchill’s Scientific Committee on Food Policy.

At war’s end, Boyd Orr, aged sixty-five, retired from Rowett Institute, but accepted three new positions: a three-year term as rector of Glasgow University, a seat in the Commons representing the Scottish universities, and the post of director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Boyd Orr found his work with the FAO exasperating because of the FAO’s lack of authority and funds, but he energetically pursued every avenue for improving the world production and equitable distribution of food. In 1946, under the aegis of the FAO, he set up an International Emergency Food Council, with thirty-four member nations, to meet the postwar food crisis. He traveled extensively throughout the world trying to get support for a comprehensive food plan and was bitterly disappointed when his proposal for the establishment of a World Food Board failed in 1947 when neither Britain nor the United States would vote for it.

Believing that the FAO could not, at that point, become a spearhead for a movement to achieve world unity and peace, Boyd Orr resolved to resign as director-general and to go into business. Within three years he earned a bigger net income from directorships than he had ever had from scientific research, and with capital gains made on the Stock Exchange, he established a comfortable personal estate. It was symbolic of this period of his life that he should have been informed of his Nobel Peace Prize award by his banker. The prize money, however, he donated to the National Peace Council, the World Movement for World Federal Government, and various other such organizations.
In the years following the Second World War, Boyd Orr was associated with virtually every organization that has agitated for world government, in many instances devoting his considerable administrative and propagandistic skills to the cause.«The most important question today», he says in his autobiography, «is whether man has attained the wisdom to adjust the old systems to suit the new powers of science and to realize that we are now one world in which all nations will ultimately share the same fate.

John Boyd Orr, himself a scientist-adjuster of old systems, died at his home in Scotland in June, 1971, at the age of ninety.

The Great Scot who invented the cloud chamber and won the 1927 Nobel Prize for Physics


Charles Thomson Rees Wilson (born Feb. 14, 1869, Glencorse, Midlothian, Scot.—died Nov. 15, 1959, Carlops, Peeblesshire) Scottish physicist who, with Arthur H. Compton, received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1927 for his invention of the Wilson cloud chamber, which became widely used in the study of radioactivity, X rays, cosmic rays, and other nuclear phenomena.
Wilson began studying clouds as a meteorologist in 1895. In an effort to duplicate the effects of certain clouds on mountaintops, he devised a way of expanding moist air in a closed container. The expansion cooled the air so that it became supersaturated and moisture condensed on dust particles.

Wilson noted that when he used dust-free air the air remained supersaturated and that clouds did not form until the degree of supersaturation reached a certain critical point. He believed that in the absence of dust the clouds formed by condensing on ions (charged atoms or molecules) in the air. Hearing of the discovery of X rays, he thought that ion formation as a result of such radiation might bring about more intensive cloud formation. He experimented and found that radiation left a trail of condensed water droplets in his cloud chamber. Perfected by 1912, his chamber proved indispensable in the study of nuclear physics and eventually led to the development (by Donald A. Glaser in 1952) of the bubble chamber.

From 1916 Wilson became involved in the study of lightning, and in 1925 he was appointed Jacksonian professor of natural history at the University of Cambridge. Applying his studies of thunderstorms, he devised a method of protecting British wartime barrage balloons from lightning, and in 1956 he published a theory of thunderstorm electricity.

The Great Scot who discovered the noble gases and won the 1904 Nobel Prize for Chemistry


William Ramsay was born in Glasgow on October 2, 1852, the son of William Ramsay, C.E. and Catherine, née Robertson. He was a nephew of the geologist, Sir Andrew Ramsay.
Until 1870 he studied in his native town, following this with a period in Fittig’s laboratory at Tübingen until 1872. While there his thesis on orthotoluic acid and its derivatives earned him the degree of doctor of philosophy.

On his return to Scotland in 1872 he became assistant in chemistry at the Anderson College in Glasgow and two years later secured a similar position at the University there. In 1880 he was appointed Principal and Professor of Chemistry at University College, Bristol, and moved on in 1887 to the Chair of Inorganic Chemistry at University College, London, a post which he held until his retirement in 1913.

Ramsay’s earliest works were in the field of organic chemistry. Besides his doctor’s dissertation, about this period he published work on picoline and, in conjunction with Dobbie, on the decomposition products of the quinine alkaloids (1878-1879). From the commencement of the eighties he was chiefly active in physical chemistry, his many contributions to this branch of chemistry being mostly on stoichiometry and thermodynamics. To these must be added his investigations carried on with Sidney Young on evaporation and dissociation (1886-1889) and his work on solutions of metals (1889).

It was however in inorganic chemistry that his most celebrated discoveries were made. As early as 1885-1890 he published several notable papers on the oxides of nitrogen and followed those up with the discovery of argon, helium, neon, krypton, and xenon. Led to the conclusion by different paths and, at first, without working together, both Lord Rayleigh and Sir William Ramsay succeeded in proving that there must exist a previously unknown gas in the atmosphere. They subsequently worked in their separate laboratories on this problem but communicated the results of their labours almost daily. At the meeting of the British Association in August 1894, they announced the discovery of argon.

While seeking sources of argon in the mineral kingdom, Ramsay discovered helium in 1895. Guided by theoretical considerations founded on Mendeleev’s periodic system, he then methodically sought the missing links in the new group of elements and found neon, krypton, and xenon (1898).

Yet another discovery of Ramsay (in conjunction with Soddy), the importance of which it was impossible to foresee, was the detection of helium in the emanations of radium (1903).

In 1881 Ramsay married Margaret, the daughter of George Stevenson Buchanan. They had one son and one daughter. His recreations were languages and travelling.

Sir William Ramsay died at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on July 23, 1916.