Robert Whytlaw-Gray

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Robert Whytlaw-Gray
Born(1877-06-14)14 June 1877
Died29 January 1958(1958-01-29) (aged 80)
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
AwardsFellow of the Royal Society[1]
Scientific career

Robert H. Whytlaw-Gray, OBE, FRS[1] (14 June 1877 - 29 January 1958) was an English chemist, born in London. He studied at the University of Glasgow and University College London and was Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Leeds. He and William Ramsay isolated radon and studied its physical properties (density, weight).[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Robert Whytlaw-Gray (also Robert Whytlaw Whytlaw-Gray)[3] was born in Hampstead on 14 June 1877, son of Robert James Gray and Mary Gilkieson Gemmell Whytlaw.

His early education was at St Paul’s School, where little science was taught. When he was about 12, Whytlaw-Gray set up a laboratory at home and taught himself chemistry. At eighteen he went to the University of Glasgow to study engineering and it was there that he heard a lecture by William Ramsay[4] which so inspired him that he determined to go to University College London (UCL), to study under him. This he did, from 1896, so successfully that he won the Tufnell Scholarship in chemistry in 1898. The prize is awarded to “the best graduate, under the age of 24, progressing to the Research School” [5] which presumably means Whytlaw-Gray gained a first degree, although there is no formal record of this. In 1903 he joined Anschütz’s lab at the University of Bonn, where he worked on the atomic weight of nitrogen and where he was awarded a PhD in 1906.

Academic career[edit]

On his return to UCL Whytlaw-Gray was appointed to Ramsay’s staff, and made Assistant Professor in 1908. He worked on the physical properties of niton,[6] resigning his post in 1914.

The following year he started as a temporary science master at Eton. Later Whytlaw-Gray was appointed a civilian chemical adviser to the Chemical Warfare Committee. He started work on aerosols and toxic smokes, assisted by J B Speakman.[7] These researches were of great practical value in the war effort, and continued for many years.

In 1923 he was appointed Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Head of the Chemistry Department at the University of Leeds in succession to Arthur Smithells. He stayed at Leeds for 22 years.[8] The University conferred on him the title of Emeritus Professor on his retirement and, in 1950, the degree of DSc honoris causa.


Whytlaw-Gray was awarded the OBE in 1920.[9] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1928.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Whytlaw-Gray married Doris Fortescue Carr at St Stephen Walbrook on 22 July 1911. They had two daughters, Philippa Mary (born 1915) and Alianore Doris (born 1916).


Whytlaw-Gray died on 21 January 1958, aged 80 [10] at The Cottage Hospital, Welwyn Garden City. His wife died in 1961.


  1. ^ a b c Cox, E. G.; Hume, J. (1958). "Robert Whytlaw-Gray 1877-1958". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 4: 327–339. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1958.0025. S2CID 73066148.
  2. ^ "History - People - R W Gray". UCL. Retrieved 31 October 2009.[]
  3. ^ In his marriage certificate, the citation for his OBE, and in the probate register after his death he is shown as Robert Whytlaw Whytlaw-Gray. The register for his birth, however, names him as Robert Whytlaw-Gray)
  4. ^ Robert Whytlaw-Gray, E G Cox and J Hume, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol 4 (Nov 1958), pp 326-339
  5. ^ "Departmental Prizes and Scholarships". UCL: Chemistry. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  6. ^ R. W. Gray; W. Ramsay (1909). "Some Physical Properties of Radium Emanation". J. Chem. Soc. Trans. 1909: 1073–1085. doi:10.1039/CT9099501073.
  7. ^ "News and Views: Dr J B Speakman". Nature. 144 (3635): 15–16. 1 July 1939. doi:10.1038/144015d0. S2CID 4010782.
  8. ^ "Chemistry at Leeds: Retirement of Prof W R [sic] Whytlaw-Gray, OBE, FRS". Nature. 156: 386. 29 September 1945. doi:10.1038/156386a0. S2CID 4098806.
  9. ^ "To be Officers of the Civil Division of the said Most Excellent Order". Supplement to the London Gazette: 3788. 30 March 1920.
  10. ^ The National Probate Calendar entry has the wrong date of death: 21 January 1959