The properties & uses of noble gases

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The properties & uses of noble gases
Neon, a noble gas, is used to make neon signs. (race car neon sign image by MAXFX from Fotolia.com)

Noble gases are six elements found in Group VIII on the Periodic Table of Elements. These gases all share common traits, the most significant being that they are primarily inert, or chemically nonreactive with other elements. According to the University of California, Davis Chemistry Department, noble gases were first characterised by Henry Cavendish in 1875.

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Neon

According to the National Science Resources Center, neon is the fourth-most abundant element in the universe. It is a nonflammable, colourless and odourless gas obtained by the air through distillation. It glows when exposed to high electric current, making it ideal for use in neon signs. Neon has a boiling point of -246 degrees Celsius and a melting point of -249 degrees Celsius.

Helium

Helium is an odourless and colourless gas with a melting point of -272 degrees Celsius and a boiling point of -269 degrees Celsius. It is an extremely light gas and is, in fact, the second-least dense of all the elements. Helium is used for inflating blimps, modern airships and both party and weather balloons. It is nonflammable.

Argon

Argon is a nontoxic element most often used in manufacturing lasers, light bulbs and arc welding machines. Scientists use an inert argon atmosphere to grow crystals used in manufacturing computer chips. Argon is an odourless, nonflammable element with a boiling point of -185.7 degrees Celsius and a melting point of -189 degrees Celsius. The only element that produces a reaction from argon is fluorine.

Krypton

Krypton is a nonflammable, odourless and colourless gas. In solid form, krypton appears as a white crystalline substance. It has a melting point of -157.38 degrees Celsius and a boiling point of -153.22 degrees Celsius. Krypton is used in manufacturing energy-efficient windows, vehicle headlights and lasers.

Radon

Radon is a tasteless, odourless and colourless heavy gas. It has a boiling point of -71 degrees Celsius and a melting point of -62 degrees Celsius. Below its freezing point, radon emits a bright yellow phosphorescent glow. It is radioactive, although it emits very little gamma radiation. Prolonged exposure to radon compounds can lead to lung cancer and other lung diseases. Even so, radon is used in a number of beneficial health applications, such as treating arthritis and certain cancers.

Xenon

Xenon, an extremely rare element in Earth's atmosphere, is a colourless, odourless, nonflammable gas. It has a boiling point of -108.13 degrees Celsius and a melting point of -111.9 degrees Celsius. Like most of the noble gases, xenon is inert and rarely reacts with other elements, though it may form compounds with oxides and fluorides. Xenon is used in a number of different products, including X-rays, incandescent lighting and plasma display panels.

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