The discovery of a new chemical element is a rare event; therefore, it is amazing that, in the space of only forty-two days, Morris Travers was involved in the discovery of not one but three new elements—krypton, neon, and xenon.
Morris William Travers was born on January 24, 1872, in Kensington, London, England. His father was an eminent surgeon who was an early champion of antiseptic medicine. Young Morris was well schooled and showed an early interest in science. He entered University College, London, in 1889, and there came under the influence of Sir William Ramsay. Travers received his B.S. in 1893, and, like most of his contemporaries, he planned to specialize in organic chemistry. He began his studies in this field at the University of Nancy in France, but finding both the subject and his adviser disagreeable, he returned to University College, where he began work on his doctorate.
During this time, Ramsay was conducting the research that led to the discovery of argon in 1894 and then helium in 1895. He asked Travers to join him in identifying the properties of these new elements, and the young researcher never again returned to the study of organic chemistry. From 1895 until 1900 Travers worked with Ramsay to find the missing rare gases that the Periodic Table indicated should exist. The two isolated krypton in May 1898, and then a few days later, while examining a large volume of argon, they separated a small quantity of another new element, which they named neon. On further examination of the liquefied air residues from which they had isolated these new elements, they discovered yet another heavier gas, which was named xenon. Because of the chemical inertness of these gases, they were identified by passing an electric current through tubes containing the gases and measuring the characteristic frequencies at which they emitted light. Travers obtained his Ph.D. in 1898 and continued to work on cryogenic research at University College until 1903, when he accepted a position at University College in Bristol.
In 1906 Travers traveled to India to help found the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. He returned to England in 1915 and aided the World War I effort by applying his expertise to the production of scientific glassware and munitions. He remained in the chemical industry in various capacities until 1927, when he returned to Bristol as an honorary professor and research fellow. He retired in 1937 but remained active as a consultant and, in his eighties, wrote a vivid and erudite biography of Ramsay, his early mentor. He died on August 25, 1961, at his home in Stroud, Gloucester-shire.
Bawn, C. E. H. (1963). "Morris William Travers." Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society 9: 301–313.
Travers, Morris W. (1928). The Discovery of the Rare Gases. London: E. Arnold & Co.