The Noble Quest

Science Edition,

Despite the title of this article, today we aren’t going to be learning about knights, horses, kings and treasure. Today we’re looking at the Noble Gases. Welcome to the new edition of Throwback Thursday (science edition)! Whether you’re already acquainted with the Nobles or this is your first encounter (perhaps you studied them in school but have since forgotten), together let’s start our learning quest!

What are the Noble Gases?

The Noble Gases make up seven chemical elements, which in turn make up Group 18 of the periodic table. These elements are:

  • Helium (He)
  • Neon (Ne)
  • Argon (Ar)
  • Krypton (Kr)
  • Xenon (Xe)
  • Radon (Rn)
  • Oganesson (Og)

These elements rarely react with other elements -- hence they are described as inert -- and so do not take part in chemical reactions. The seven elements are ‘happy’ elements because their atoms have full outer shells! They’re known as happy because a full shell doesn’t need to react to gain, lose or share electrons. 

Where it began

The Nobles, in a way, can be traced back to 1785, when English chemist Henry Cavendish discovered that air contains a small percentage (<1%) of a substance less chemically active than Nitrogen. It wasn’t until the late 19th century, when English physicist Lord Rayleigh joined forces with Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay to isolate this gas, proving it to be a new element -- Argon! 

Ramsay and his co-workers went on to investigate further, leading to the discovery of Helium on Earth (it had already been identified in the Sun in 1868), as well as Krypton, Neon and Xenon in 1898. Radon was identified two years later by German chemist Friedrich E. Dorn. By 1904, Rayleigh and Ramsay had won Nobel Prizes for their Noble Gas work.

Fun Facts

  • Krypton gets its name from the Greek word “kryptos”, which translates to “the hidden one”; it is often used with other gases, such as Argon, in fluorescent lamps.
  • Despite both being lighter than air, Helium is chosen over Hydrogen for use in balloons because non-flammable Helium is the safer option; Helium gets its name from 'helios', the Greek word meaning “sun”
  • Noble Gases are often used in lighting due to their lack of chemical reactivity
  • Xenon gets its name from the Greek word “xenos”, meaning “stranger” or “foreigner”; Xenon is found in Mars' atmosphere at about 0.08 parts per million.
  • Sir William Ramsay discovered the majority of Group 18
  • Argon gets its name from the Greek word for “idle”; Argon is the go-to gas when an inert environment is needed
  • Neon signs don’t just use Neon gas, but a mixture of different Noble Gases and other elements to create bright, different coloured lights; its name is derived from the Greek word “neos” meaning “new”
  • Radon is one of the densest gases and is the heaviest; it is 9 times heavier than air
  • Oganesson is one of only two elements named after a person living at the time of naming (Yuri Oganessian); since only a few atoms of Oganesson have ever been artificially produced, it has no practical uses except for scientific research and interest

To learn more about Throwback innovations, material updates and STEM subjects in general, sign up to our mailing list to receive blog updates!