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ACS dedicates landmark to work of Neil Bartlett

neil bartlett

Professor Emeritus Neil Bartlett

The American Chemical Society, in conjunction with the Canadian Society of Chemistry, has designated a new International Historic Chemical Landmark to honor the work of Professor Emeritus Neil Bartlett. The landmark commemorates the work of Bartlett that was conducted in 1962 while he was a professor of chemistry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Bartlett joined the UC Berkeley College of Chemistry faculty in 1969.

The text of the plaque on the campus of UBC reads in English and French:

In this building in 1962 Neil Bartlett demonstrated the first reaction of a noble gas. The noble gas family of elements - helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon - had previously been regarded as inert. By combining xenon with a platinum fluoride, Bartlett created the first noble gas compound. This reaction began the field of noble gas chemistry, which became fundamental to the scientific understanding of the chemical bond. Noble gas compounds have helped create anti-tumor agents and have been used in lasers.

On March 23, 1962, Bartlett conducted a simple experiment to test his hypothesis that xenon could form a stable compound. He set up a glass apparatus containing platinum hexafluoride (PtF6, a red gas) in one container and xenon (a colorless gas) in an adjoining container, separated by a seal.

It was dinner time on a Friday evening when Bartlett broke the seal between the red PtF6 gas and the colorless xenon gas. There was an immediate interaction, causing an orange-yellow solid to precipitate. "I was greatly excited by this observation and left the laboratory to find a colleague or student who could witness the event," he later wrote. But no one was in the building.

Bartlett felt certain that the orange-yellow solid was the world's first noble gas compound. It was subsequently identified in laboratory studies as xenon hexafluoroplatinate (XePtF6), although later studies revealed this was an approximate composition.

Spurred by Bartlett's success, other scientists soon began to make new compounds from xenon, radon and krypton. With Bartlett's simple experiment, the old "law" of the unreactivity of the noble gases had disappeared.

In 1962, Bartlett and other scientists were reluctant to spend too much time unraveling the intricacies of XePtF6 when there was a whole new world of noble-gas chemistry to explore. Bartlett continued his research on noble gas and fluorine chemistry while a UC Berkeley chemistry professor. The difficulties of working with PtF6 meant that the most definitive paper on the nature of XePtF6, published in 2000 by Bartlett and his colleagues, came 38 years after his initial discovery and one year after Bartlett had retired from active research at the College of Chemistry.

Related Items

Bartlett's ACS International Historic Chemical Landmark

Biography of Bartlett

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