Nobel Prize Award for Chemistry 1901 to 1904

About the Nobel Prize Award for Chemistry from 1901 to 1904 including the scientists Fischer and Ramsay, their works, and history.

CHEMISTRY

1901 Jacobus H. van't Hoff (1852-1911), Dutch

Work: Discovered laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure

1902 Emil Fischer (1852-1919), German

Work: Synthesis of sugars and purine derivatives

Nobel Laureate: Fischer began at 30 as professor of chemistry at the University of Erlangen, transferring after three years to the University of Wurzburg and finally, in 1892, to the University of Berlin. He was the first to isolate different types of sugars, thus making it possible to examine their structures. He also synthesized a variety of carbohydrates. Concurrent with his carbohydrate studies, Fischer began examining a class of compounds collectively known as the uric acid group. He determined the makeup of several members, including caffeine. He next synthesized the parent substance of the group, purine, and from that developed several new derivatives. Around the turn of the century, Fischer turned his attention to protein structure and eventually managed to synthesize molecules containing multiple amino acids linked in a certain way, substances known as polypeptides. However, the latter work was not in full swing until after he received the award and thus was not acknowledged.

Nobel Lore: Fischer's competition that year included his former teacher Adolf von Baeyer, who would win an award of his own three years later. Fischer was given the edge because, unlike Von Baeyer's, his work was recent. The Nobel committee credited Fischer with making the most significant discoveries in organic chemistry of the past generation and implied that his sugar and carbohydrate research was so exhaustive that little more was left to accomplish in the field. Future Nobel judges climbed down a bit from that lofty claim, however, as the 1937 award went to Haworth for his carbohydrate studies.

1903 Svante A. Arrhenius (1859-1927), Swedish

Work: Development of the electrolytic dissociation (ionization) theory

1904 William Ramsay (1852-1916), British

Work: Discovered the elements helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon and determined their places in the periodic table

Nobel Laureate; Born in Glasgow, Ramsay began teaching chemistry at 28 at the University of Bristol, where he conducted physicochemical research. His complex experiments required a variety of odd-shaped vessels and conduits. Ramsay made all the equipment himself and in this way became an expert glassblower. After seven years, he transferred to the University of London, where he began his prizewinning experiments. In 1894, working with Lord Rayleigh, he discovered the first of the so-called "inert" gases, argon. For their trouble, the scientists split the $10,000 Hodgkins Prize given out by the Smithsonian Institution. Convinced that more inert gases lay out there somewhere, Ramsay the next year isolated helium, then thought to exist only on the sun. In 1898, now assisted by Morris Travers, he discovered three more elements over a six-week period, naming the first krypton ("hidden") and the third xenon ("stranger"). As for the second one, his 13-year-old son Willie came up with the title "novum." Ramsay liked the idea, but altered the word from Latin to its present Greek form, neon. In 1902 Ramsay was knighted. After science, Ramsay's second love was language. He spoke fluent German and French and could hold his own in Italian. As a child, he rarely sat in church with an English Bible; rather, he plowed through the familiar verses in German or French to learn those languages. An outdoorsman, Ramsay filled his spare time with hiking, cycling, boating, skating, and swimming. His graceful precision diving often drew poolside crowds.

Nobel Lore: Ramsay walked away with the Nobel Prize, garnering 22 of the 32 votes, despite the large field of contenders. In his Nobel lecture, he credited the writings of the 18th-century English physicist Henry Cavendish with spurring him on to discover new elements.

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