Crookes, William 1832 - 1919

English; British

(1832-1919) Knight Chemist

William Crookes was born in London on the 17th June 1832, and educated at Prospect House School, Weybridge. He began his scientific career at the age of sixteen when he entered the Royal College of Chemistry in Oxford Street, London. He became Junior and later senior assistant to German chemist A. W Hofmann before becoming superintendent of the meteorological department of the Radcliffe (Astronomical) Observatory in Oxford, in 1854. The following year he was appointed lecturer in chemistry at the Chester Anglican teachers' training college, but he soon returned to London where he spent the rest of his life.

In 1854, with John Spiller, he had devised the first dry collodion process. With the introduction of spectrum analysis by R.W. Bunsen and G.R. Kirchhoff, Crookes applied the new technique to the study of selenium compounds. In 1861 he discovered thallium in some seleniferous deposits, and exhibited a sample of it at the Great Exhibition of 1862. He continued work on that new element, isolated it, studied its properties, and in 1873 determined its atomic weight. This led him to the construction of the radiometer in 1875.

Crookes also delved into 'The Wheat Problem', where his argument was that we were within measurable distance of utilizing the last areas of land available for wheat growing. Therefore with an increase in population, this would lead to danger of a wheat shortage. After the discovery of radioactivity in 1896, Crookes devoted considerable attention to the properties of radium, where he discovered Uranium-X. Crookes worked on spiritualism where he was led to the view that outside our scientific knowledge there exists a force exercised by intelligence differing from the ordinary intelligence common to mortals. He published a book on spiritualism in 1874.

Crookes was made a knight in 1897, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1863 and awarded him the Royal Medal in 1975, the Davy Medal in 1888 and the Copley Medal in 1904. The French Academy of Sciences gave him a gold medal and a prize of 3,000f in recognition of his work on radiant matter. In 1899 he was awarded the Albert Medal of the Society of Arts and he received the Order of Merit in 1910. He published a large number of scientific papers and edited English translations of many book on pure and applied chemistry. He became editor of the 'Quarterly Journal of Science' in 1864. Crookes died at 7 Kensington Park Gardens, London, on 4 April 1919. His wife died in 1916, they had four sons and one daughter.