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Neon Element History

Neon Element History

Neon was discovered way back in 1898 by Sir William Ramsay. In this article, we trace the history of this element to find out how it was discovered and put to use.
Abhijit Naik
We generally come across the phrase 'other gases' when we discuss the atmospheric composition of the Earth. These 'other gases' together constitute less than 1 percent of the planet's atmosphere, and neon is one of them with an atmospheric concentration of 18 parts per million (ppm). This low concentration can be attributed to the light nature of this element, which allows it to escape into the outer space with immense ease. Scientific estimates suggest that neon is present in the universe in abundance.

Neon Information

Neon is one of the rare gases present in the Earth's atmosphere. It is typically characterized by a distinct reddish-orange glow that it emits. More information about its physical properties is given below.
  • Symbol: Ne
  • Atomic Number: 10
  • Atomic Weight: 20.1797(6) g·mol-1
  • Density: 0.9002 g/L
  • Melting Point: -415.46°F
  • Boiling Point: -410.94°F
Neon also has the distinction of being the second lightest inert gas and fifth most abundant element in the universe. Besides this, it also plays a pivotal role in the basic understanding of the nature of atoms.

Neon History

Its history can be traced back to the last decade of the 18th century, when Sir William Ramsay, along with his student Morris Travers, discovered it while working on an experiment in London. On April 19, 1894, Ramsay came in contact with the noted English physicist, Lord Rayleigh. Taking a note of the discrepancy between the density of nitrogen produced by chemical synthesis and nitrogen isolated from the air observed by Lord Rayleigh, Ramsay decided to conduct some more experiments and get into the details of the matter. In course of this experiment Ramsay discovered a new component of the air, which was heavy and didn't have any obvious chemical reactivity. Ramsay named it argon, and continued with the research.

As a part of the follow-up of this research, Ramsay and Morris Travers were working on an experiment in 1898. In course of this experiment, the duo took a sample of the air and cooled it till it became liquid. Then they took this liquid air and boiled it. As the solution boiled, it started to evaporate in the form of gas. When they collected this gas and subjected it to various tests, they found three new gases: neon, krypton, and xenon. The term neon was derived from the Greek word 'neos', meaning new. Thus, it was determined that the Earth's atmosphere, which was previously believed to contain only oxygen and nitrogen, also contained trace amounts of various 'other gases'. The process by which these gases were obtained from the atmosphere was known as the fractional distillation of the liquefied air.

Over the period, neon went on to become one of the major constituents of various fields, including the field of advertising, where it was used for manufacturing eye-catching neon signs. The numerous uses of neon aptly highlight why it is considered one of the most important chemical elements occurring on the planet.