In nature, the chemical element neon is found in its gaseous state only. It is found in the Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts. In fact, commercially, neon is obtained from air. For industrial uses, it is produced by fractional distillation of liquid air through the cryogenic method. Besides, volcanic gases are rich in neon. Even though it is quite a rare element on the Earth, it is abundantly found in the universe. It comes fifth among the most abundant elements of the universe. Its less availability on our planet is owing to the fact that it is light in weight and is chemically inert.
Discovery of Element Neon
The credit for the discovery of this element goes to Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay and English chemist Morris W. Travers. The duo also discovered two other noble gases namely, krypton and xenon. They discovered neon in London in the year 1898. During the experiment, Ramsay cooled down a sample of air to such a low temperature that it became liquid. This liquid air was then boiled, and the gases thus released; were collected. Apart from other atmospheric gases like oxygen, nitrogen, argon and krypton; neon was also found in the collection of gases and was characterized by its bright red color emitted by the electrically activated neon atoms. The name of this element is derived from the Greek word neon which means 'new one'.
Properties of Neon
In chemistry, neon is represented with chemical symbol Ne. In periodic table, it is placed in group 18 along with other five noble gases. In this group, it is placed just below helium. It is also a member of p-block of the periodic table and it is the first noble gas of the block.
Neon is one of the lightest of all the noble gases, and is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless substance. Under low pressure or in vacuum condition, if electric current is passed through neon gas, it emits a typical reddish orange light that we see in advertising signs. Liquid range (the temperature at which a gas remains in liquid form) of neon is the narrowest of all elements. Its refrigerating capacity is about forty times more than that of liquid helium and three times more than liquid hydrogen.
The atomic number of neon is 10 and its atomic mass is 20.18. There are three stable isotopes of neon, namely: neon-20, neon-21, and neon-22. The atomic number of neon clearly specifies that it does not have any free electrons in its electronic shells. Therefore, under normal conditions, it is a monatomic element. In other words, a neon molecule consists of one single atom only.
Neon is considered to be a chemically inert substance. Its chemical reactivity is the least among all the noble gases. It can be said that it is the most inactive element. So far, there are no known compounds of neon; and even neutral compounds are not available. However, presence of some ions like Ne+, (HeNe+), (NeH)+, etc., have been found during studies of optical and mass spectrometry. Besides, there are some unconfirmed reports about existence of an unstable hydrate of neon.
Uses of Neon
The element neon is used in many different ways. It has usage in vacuum tubes, wave meter tubes, television tubes, high-voltage indicators, and lightning arrestors. Neon is also used along with helium for the purpose of making gas lasers. It has a distinguishing reddish-orange color glow when it is used in lamps or discharge tubes. Commonly used neon lights have two different varieties. One is the glow-discharge lamps which are small in size and can operate at low voltage. These lamps are popularly used in circuit-testing equipment and power-on indicators. The other one can operate at a very high voltage and is most widely used in advertising signs.
Another important usage of this element, is as a cryogenic refrigerant. Commercially, it is a more popular refrigerant, as it is less expensive as compared to helium. The triple point temperature of neon (the temperature at which all three phases, solid, liquid, and gaseous form of neon co-exist) has a defining fixed point, and is employed in the International Temperature Scale of 1990.
Since neon is nontoxic in nature, no precautions are needed for handling this chemical element. The only problem with neon is that its liquefied form is highly expensive and is very difficult to obtain it in small quantities for use in the laboratory tests.