neon sign, properties of noble gases, noble gases in everyday life, uses of noble gases

Everyday Uses of Noble Gases

Read Time: 3 minutes

There may be a lot more elements out there, but currently we’ve discovered and classified 118 of them. Many of these elements are things you encounter in your daily life. Take a breath. That’s nitrogen, oxygen and a number of different trace elements that make up the air you breathe. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the noble gases. What are noble gases and where might you encounter them in your daily life?

Noble Gas Properties and Order of Abundance

Noble gases, as their name suggests, are almost always found in gaseous form. This is one of the primary properties of noble gases. These elements make up the last column of the periodic table, and this group is made up of seven elements:

Helium

Neon

Argon

Krypton

Xenon

Radon

Oganesson

They were considered inert gases when they were discovered, because they don’t react with other elements. Scientists used to believe they were incapable of actually interacting with other elements, but modern scientists have disproved this.

While they were once considered rare, most of them are fairly abundant in the Earth’s crust. The only exception to this is oganesson, which is an artificially created element. Only a few atoms have ever been made.

Chemical and Physical Traits

Noble gases are considered stable — they have the maximum number of valence electrons possible in their outer layer, so they don’t have any need to interact with other elements.

What are the other properties of noble gases?

They are all found naturally in their gaseous form, and all the members of this element group are capable of conducting electricity and emitting fluorescence, or light, when charged. They are also odorless and colorless. All the gases need to maintain their stability is a consistent environment. That’s why helium, one of the first noble gases to be discovered, doesn’t react with the rubber of the balloon that holds it.

Real-Life Applications

Noble gases aren’t easy to spot, because they’re both colorless and odorless, so where might you encounter them in the real world?

If you’ve ever gotten a balloon from a birthday party, then you’re familiar with helium. This noble gas is lighter than air and is used to fill everything from birthday balloons to scientific balloons. It is also used as a coolant for things like MRIs and the Large Hadron Collider. It is mixed with oxygen and nitrogen to make a breathing mixture for scuba divers to help avoid a condition known as the bends, where nitrogen bubbles build up in the blood.

Neon won’t react with any other elements, but when placed in a vacuum tube and charged with electricity, it will glow — creating the iconic neon signs. It is also a better coolant than liquid helium or liquid hydrogen.

Unless you’re good at welding, you’re probably not using argon in your daily life. It is used as an inert gas during arc welding. It doesn’t ignite and prevents oxygen in the atmosphere from doing so during high-temperature welding.

No, we’re not talking about Superman’s home planet — Krypton is another one of the many noble gases. If you’re into high-speed photography, you may have flashbulbs that are made with a mixture of argon and krypton. It can also be used to make neon signs that glow green.

You may have encountered xenon in the movie theater — many motion picture projectors use it to assist with their function. It can also be used as an anesthetic, and in flash lamps that are capable of killing bacteria in a lab setting.

Radon is the only radioactive noble gas, and it was used for cancer therapy. Radon can also build up in homes as it escapes from the ground. When suspended in water, it’s also believed to be an effective treatment for arthritis.

Ogenesson is actually a metal, but it currently belongs to the noble gas family because of its atomic weight and its location on the periodic table. It is an artificially created element, though, so its only use is research at the current moment.

Even though you might not be mining noble gases, you can still encounter them in your daily life. Smile the next time you grab a balloon at a birthday party — you’ve got one of the noble gases in the palm on your hand!

Category: Chemistry

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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.