Chemistry

The Discoverer of Helium



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Helium, the second element on the periodic table of elements, is a very underrated discovery. This leader of the noble gases is a very important treasure and we should thank the man who detected it, Pierre Jansen.
Pierre stumbled upon the element of helium when he labeled it as a certain spectral line signature in light from a solar eclipse. This line appeared to be yellow when he spotted it in 1868. Since then helium has been discovered to be a major component in our earth's air. Especially in the United States where large reserves of helium have been found in the natural gas fields, which is easily the largest supplier of gas in the world.
Some may refer to Pierre Jansen as the first discoverer of helium but since he only viewed the element others disagree. The other discovereer of helium is SIr William Ramsay. Sir William was a Glasgow native that thrived in inorganic chemistry. His studies eventually would lead him to finding the noble gases. The noble gases are comprised of helium, argon, neon, krypton, and xenon. Since helium belonged to this group of elements, Sir William was credited for finding it's true identity. This discovery was a highly notable one but what Ramsay didn't know was that another scientist was making the same exact discoveries at the same time he was. These discoveries led the two to collaborate and the eventually discovery of all of the noble gases. Although Rayleigh was not a direct discoverer of helium he helped to identify argon, which was one of the noble gases.
The methods that Ramsay had used to discover helium were quite interesting. He isolated helium on Earth by treating the mineral cleveite (a variety of uraninite with at least 10% rare earth elements) with mineral acids. His original goal was to discover argon but when he separated the nitrogen and oxygen from the gas that was freed from the sulfuric acid he noticed something very interesting. He noticed that the color appeared to be the same as the one the Pierre saw. It seemed to be identical to the D3 light that Norman Lockyer had labeled. Norman had thought that the light was a type of sodium which lead to the name of D3. Later on it had been named helium and had been observed multiple times in the spectrum of the sun. William Crookes assisted this discovery in also labeling the spectrum helium and it would later be identified as a noble gas by Williams. Williams was the true discoverer of the noble gas helium, whereas helium had already been observed and labeled as the spectrum of D3 light.
As you can see there were many discoverers of helium, it is up to the scientist to determine who is the true discoverer of helium. Whether it be helium as a noble gas, or helium as the visible light, the true discovery will forever remain a debate.

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