• Let us discuss today about another genius!! A student of chemistry who achieved the most coveted award a chemist can imagine – the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921. He was a boy from Eastbourne, United Kingdom who was born on September 2, 1877. His father was a corn merchant. He lost her mother when he was only two years old and was raised by one of his sisters.
  • We can see that he was very unlucky in his childhood days. However, God was not that cruel to him. He was very fortunate to work with two Nobel Laureates, Sir Ernest Rutherford at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and then with Sir William Ramsay at University College, London.  Rutherford introduced him to the world of radioactivity. They proved together that the phenomenon is caused by atomic disintegration with creation of new kinds of matters. Later, Soddy and Ramsay demonstrated that the element helium was produced in the radioactive decay of emanation from a sample of radium bromide.
  • Soddy worked as a Lecturer in University of Glasgow and continued studies on radioactivity. During this period, initially he evolved the “Displacement Law” that states that emission of an alpha-particle from an element results in moving back two places in the periodic table by the element. In 1913, he introduced the concept of “isotopes” that proposed that certain elements exist in two or more forms having different atomic weights but are having same chemical properties. In 1921, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contributions towards knowledge of the radioactivity and his studies on the origin and nature of isotopes.  
  • After his stint in Glasgow, he joined University of Aberdeen as a Professor. However, his research plans were affected by the outbreak of war. Can you imagine what Prof. Soddy did? He then left working on radioactivity and started working on economic and social issues and on some critical mathematical problems.
  • In one of the occasions, Prof. Soddy said “The history of man is dominated by and reflects the amount of available energy”. He thought that judicious control of atomic energy could virtually provide anyone “a private sun of his own”. He was deeply hurt after the bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • He had very strong emotional attachment with his wife Winifred Beilby and he took voluntary retirement immediately after her death. He breathed his last on September 22, 1956 at Brighton, United Kingdom.

Contributed by Dr Pradosh P Chakrabarty, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad