Helium Sample

Helium Sample

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Glass tube with paper label that reads “HELIUM / SIR W. RAMSAY, K.C.B., LLD., F.R.S. / THOMAS TRYER & CO., Ltd. / STRATFORD, LONDON, ENGLAND.”
Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, but also evanescent and hard to capture. It was unknown until 1868 when astronomers saw a yellow line in the spectrum of the solar corona. The name derives from Helios, the Greek god of the sun. In 1895, William Ramsay, professor of chemistry at University College London, saw the characteristic yellow line in some gas that he had extracted from a uranium bearing rock known as cléveite, and realized that he had helium in hand. Ramsay had discovered argon in 1894 and would find three more gases soon thereafter. He would win many honors for this work, including the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904.
Thomas Tryer & Co. was an English chemical firm that advertised tubes of helium prepared under Ramsey’s direction, in the back pages of Popular Science Monthly (Jan. 1904). This example came from Columbia University in New York City. Ramsay visited Columbia twice in 1904: once for a meeting of the Society of Chemical Industry; and once to receive an honorary degree.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Helium Sample
Date made
ca. 1904
Associated Place
United States: New Jersey
tube: 8 1/2 in x 1 1/2 in; 21.59 cm x 3.81 cm
box: 9 3/4 in x 2 3/4 in x 3 in; 24.765 cm x 6.985 cm x 7.62 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Columbia University Department of Physics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Chemistry
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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