College of Chemistry  

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College of Chemistry

2003 News Index

Bartlett's noble gas work named one of "Most Beautiful Experiments"

When platinum hexafluoride, a red gas (left), is allowed to mix with a large molar excess of xenon, the immediately formed product is a yellow solid with the composition XePtF6 (right)--the first recognized compound of a noble gas.

Chemical & Engineering News, published by the American Chemical Society, recently asked chemists and historians from around the world to name “The Top 10 Most Beautiful Experiments Performed in Chemistry.” On a list of names that included such scientific luminaries as Louis Pasteur, Joseph Priestly, and Marie and Pierre Curie was that of Neil Bartlett, UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus of Chemistry.

Bartlett made the list for his experiment in 1962, while he was at the University of British Columbia, that produced the first noble-gas compound. Prior to this work, conventional scientific wisdom had long held that chemical compounds could not be formed from noble gases because their stable electronic configuration rendered these elements unreactive. Bartlett rocked the chemistry world when he showed that platinum hexafluoride, a highly reactive compound, combines with xenon to form a salt that is stable at room temperature.

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