A barbershop at the Boulevard Montmartre, Paris, became the first commercial establishment to use a neon advertising sign, way back in 1912. The first of its kind, this neon sign was the brainchild of renowned French inventor, Georges Claude, whose company, Claude Neon virtually dominated the market for the next two decades.
Neon was discovered by British chemists, Sir William Ramsay and Morris Travers, while conducting an experiment pertaining to the atmosphere of the Earth. The duo took a sample of the atmosphere, allowed it to cool until it turned to liquid, and then boiled it. As it boiled, different gases started to evaporate from the same. Neon was one of the six gases which evaporated from the mixture; the other five were nitrogen, oxygen, argon, krypton and xenon.
A hundred years have elapsed since the first use of neon advertising sign, and several more since the discovery of this element. Over the period, several new uses of neon also surfaced. Restricted exclusively to advertising signs in the beginning, neon is being used in a range of fields -- including refrigeration and aviation -- today. There is no questioning the fact that its physical and chemical properties, which give it an edge over other chemical elements, have played a crucial role in making it so useful.
Neon is one of the six noble gases which occur naturally in the atmosphere of the Earth. It can be obtained from liquid air in a process called fractional distillation. The name neon is derived from the Greek word neos, meaning the 'new one'.
With an atmospheric composition of 0.0018 percent, it is undoubtedly one of the rarest element on the planet. However, it happens to be the fifth most abundant chemical element in the universe, and is believed to be present in abundance in the outer space.
Neon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless chemical element, known for its distinct reddish-orange glow. In the periodic table, it is represented by symbol Ne and atomic number 10. It is the second lightest inert gas in the world; only helium boasting of being lighter than it.
Neon is also the least reactive among the various noble gases, which invariably makes it the least reactive of all the chemical elements in the periodic table. Its rarity in the atmosphere can be attributed to its light nature and chemical inertness which allows it to escape into the outer space.
In its gaseous state, the density of neon is 0.9002 g/L. In its liquid state, it has a density of 1,207 g/L, and in solid state, it is 1,444 g/L. Its melting point is −415.46 °F, and boiling point is −410.94 °F.
Though the original color of the glow produced by neon is reddish-orange, adding trace amount of mercury to it makes the glow appear blue. Similarly, other shades can also be produced by varying the amount of mercury in it.
Although not toxic, neon is known to be a simple asphyxiant like other inert gases, and exposure to it can result in breathing problems and frostbite in humans in rare cases.
Neon UsesNeon can only be derived from air, and that makes it quite rare and expensive. Liquid neon, for instance, is 55 times costlier than liquid helium. Its rare nature no doubt makes it a bit expensive, but taking its uses into consideration, the cost incurred can be called reasonable. Neon light can easily penetrate fog, and therefore it is widely used in aircraft, at the airports and in cold regions. In liquid state, neon acts as a cryogenic refrigerant, which boasts of being 40 times more efficient than helium. It is also used in making helium-neon lasers or HeNe lasers, which are not just affordable but are also known for their ability to emit visible light.
Neon Advertising SignsSoon after Ramsey and Travers discovered neon, Georges Claude began his experiments with liquefied air in an attempt to discover new noble gases. When all his attempts failed to yield any result, he shifted his focus to lighting system based on gas-discharge tubes; a trend which had gained popularity with Thomas Edison's incandescent light. In 1910, Claude became the first person to make glass tubes of neon, and by 1912, he was already developing neon advertising signs by bending glass tubes to make letters. Soon enough, Claude had an entire firm dedicated to the production of neon advertising signs, Claude Neon, and several franchisees across the world.
Neon can discharge electricity even in standard conditions, and that's something which is not observed in other inert gases. This makes it one of the most popular inert gases when it comes to the advertising signs industry. In fact, such is the popularity of neon, that even those advertising signs which use xenon, argon, and helium are called neon signs today.