Neon, like argon and helium, is an inert gas or noble gas: that is, it is a gas with no smell and no colour which does not react with other chemicals under normal conditions outside the laboratory. Neon’s chemical symbol is “Ne,” and it has an atomic number of 10 – which means it occupies the tenth square on the periodic table, just below helium and above argon.
Early chemistry generally discovered and identified different elements through their chemical reactions. However, because the noble gases (and to a lesser extent nitrogen) did not react with other chemicals, they evaded discovery for quite some time. Neon was discovered after argon, in the late 1890s, by William Ramsay and Morris Travers, based on their analysis of chemicals isolated from the Earth’s atmosphere. (The same process was used to discover argon shortly before, but argon is present in larger amounts and was therefore easier to detect.)
Neon was simply a curiosity for about a decade, until a French inventor realized that it could be used in electrical lighting. (Similar discoveries meant argon is now used in incandescent lighting.) Georges Claude’s neon signs were initially marketed as ideal for advertisements and store signs – much as they are still used today.
FACTS ABOUT NEON
Aside from helium, neon is the lightest of the noble gases. It is also, at least so far, the most difficult to force into chemical reactions; thus far, while all of the other inert gases have been forced with great difficulty to form fragile chemical bonds, neon still remains unbonded, even in laboratory conditions. (Although progress in chemistry could change this at any time in the near future.) Although very rare here on Earth, it is actually extremely common in the universe, outranked overall only by fellow noble gas helium, plus carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
USES OF NEON
Neon is only present in the atmosphere in trace amounts and, in general terms, is more expensive than the more frequently occurring argon, but cheaper than helium. As such, it is still used for the purpose to which it was originally aplied: lighting. Neon signs and glow lamps both rely upon neon to produce their characteristic hues.
As with other noble gases, neon may also be used in certain refrigeration technologies. However, most household fridges make use of cheaper alternatives, and used to rely on CFCs such as Freon (which are being phased out due to the risk they posed to the ozone layer).