Neon: a gas from advertising signs

Facts about neon

One of the most in­ert el­e­ments glows with a red-or­ange col­or if you pass a high-volt­age cur­rent through it!

How it was dis­cov­ered

Neon was dis­cov­ered in 1898 by the British sci­en­tists Sir William Ram­say and Mor­ris Travers, by an­a­lyz­ing the col­or spec­trum emit­ted by the el­e­ment when it was heat­ed. Ram­say and Travers cooled air un­til it be­came liq­uid, then heat­ed and col­lect­ed the gas­es which evap­o­rat­ed. They also iso­lat­ed ni­tro­gen, oxy­gen and ar­gon. But an­oth­er gas re­mained which gave an un­usu­al spec­trum.Ram­say’s son Willy sug­gest­ed nam­ing the new el­e­ment novi­um (Latin for new), but his fa­ther de­cid­ed that the Greek word, neos, would sound bet­ter, and so the el­e­ment be­came known as neon.


Neon is the fifth most com­mon el­e­ment in the Uni­verse, but on Earth it is the rarest of all the sta­ble el­e­ments! The largest amount of it is found in the at­mos­phere – 1m³ of air con­tains around 18.2 cm³ of neon. Neon has also been found in vol­canic fu­maroles – in 1909 the French chemist Ar­mand Gau­ti­er de­tect­ed neon in gas­es emit­ted from the fu­maroles of Mount Vesu­vius.

How it is ap­plied

Neon is used in vac­u­um tubes, high-volt­age in­di­ca­tors, tele­vi­sion tubes and he­li­um-neon lasers. Liq­uid neon can be used as a cool­ing agent (the boil­ing tem­per­a­ture of neon is 27.104 K or -246.046 °C), but be­cause of its rar­i­ty, liq­uid neon can cost up to 55 times more than liq­uid he­li­um. The tem­per­a­ture of the triple point of neon (24.5561 K) is one of the ref­er­ence points for the ITS-90 tem­per­a­ture scale. But the most wide­spread use of neon is in neon signs (which is where they get their name). How­ev­er, nowa­days the term “neon sign” is also used for signs which use oth­er in­ert gas­es be­sides neon.