Morris Travers Biography

English Chemist Who Co-Discovered Krypton, Neon and Xenon

Biography of scientist and chemistry professor Morris Travers, who co-discovered inert (noble) gases in 1898.

Morris Travers was an English chemist who discovered the chemical elements krypton, neon and xenon, with Sir William Ramsay.

In the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, “inert” or “noble” gases belong to a group whose properties, under standard circumstances, are odorless, colorless, mono-atomic gases with very low chemical reactivity. Because of their non-reactive properties they are useful in preventing undesirable chemical reactions from taking place.

Early Life of Morris Travers

Morris William Travers was born on January 24, 1872 in Kensington, London, the son of William Travers who was a pioneer of surgical aseptic techniques, and Anne Pocock. He studied at Ramsgate, Woking and Blundells, before going to University College where he started working with the older William Ramsay, a Scottish chemist twenty years his senior.

Discovery of Inert (Noble) Gases

Travers helped Ramsay to determine the properties of the newly discovered gases argon (Ar) and helium (He). Among others, they also heated minerals and meteorites in search of possible other gases, but supposedly, they found none.

In 1898, they obtained a large quantity of liquid air and subjected it to fractional distillation. The spectral analysis of the least volatile fraction revealed the presence of krypton (Kr). On further experiments of the argon fraction for a constituent of lower boiling point, they discovered neon (Ne). Finally, they identified xenon (Xe) spectroscopically as it occurred in an even less volatile companion to krypton.

Chemistry Professor and Founding Institute Director

Travers became professor at the University College in 1903. He then went to Bangalore three years later as founding director of the new Indian Institute of Science. The aim was to build it along the lines of the Imperial College of Science and Technology. The institute began operation in June 1911 with four departments: General, Organic, Applied Chemistry and electrical Engineering.

At the outbreak of the First World War, he returned to Britain, and directed the manufacture of glass at Duroglass Limited. Later, in 1920, Travers started with F.W. Clark, Travers and Clark Ltd, a company involved with high-temperature furnaces and fuel technology, along with coal gasification.

In 1927, Travers went back to Bristol as Honorary Professor in Applied Chemistry.

Cryogenics

Travers continued his researches in cryogenics, a branch of physics or engineering that studies the production of very low temperatures and the behavior of materials at those temperatures. He made the first accurate temperature measurements of liquid gases and helped build several experimental liquid air plants in Europe.

He died on August 25, 1961 in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

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