Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Selling sign of our times Neon and Sir William Ramsay's plaque unveiling

2011 has been nominated the International year of Chemistry.

What better way than to remember a great scientist?!

On Wednesday 9th of February English Heritage unveiled one their blue plaques at No 12 Arundel Gardens Notting Hill London W11 - the house which the first Briton to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1904 lived. No 12 was the home from 1887-1916 of the chemist and discoverer of noble gases, Sir William Ramsay.

The crowd who had come to witness the event were in the main Chemists from University College London and members of the Royal Society of Chemistry. I suppose I could claim to be to be a Chemist although it is some 35 years ago since I studied chemistry! - but I felt among friends.

Most people in the industrialized world will nightly or daily have their attention grabbed as a result of Ramsay's discovery.

From the neon illuminating advertising signs to the xenon that trigger photographic flash bulbs his discoveries touch our daily lives.

It was while living at No 12 that Ramsay made his sensational discovery of noble gases. It was in his study at his home that he and his colleague Morris Travers wrote a joint paper for the Royal society on their discovery of neon. This post box was the one Sir William used to post his groundbreaking paper on Argon.

The name neon comes from the Greek ‘neos’ meaning new. The early developments of neon lighting in advertising probably goes back to Georges Claude.

In 1913 a large sign for the vermouth Cinzano illuminated the night sky in Paris, and by 1919 the entrance to the Paris Opera was adorned with neon tube lighting according to Wikipedia.
The first neon sign in the UK was probably at Piccadilly Circus was for Bovril – the beef tea drink.

Whether used by independent retailers or big chain global franchise operations, like Subway, Neon signs abound even in the era of LED.

Dr Andrea Sella, Inorganic Chemist at UCL Chemistry Department 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 his students that he had produced."

To commemorate Sir William, a group of chemists led by Dr Sella cycled Sir William’s cycle route to UCL from his former house to the University. A route he would have cycled over cobbled roads on a rigid bike. In a letter to his aunt not long after moving int o the house he wrote “…I go to town on a bicycle.! Right along the Bayswater road to Oxford and to Gower Street. This morning I was at College in 18 minutes from the house."

Dr Sella and fellow chemists cycle the Ramsay cycle route.

Click for year of Chemistry 2011

Click for English heritage


  1. Nice information about buying house in london. It is affordable prices and tips.

  2. It was somewhat cheaper in Sir William's day!