Fractional Distillation and Neon

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Neon (chemical symbol Ne, atomic number 10) is the fifth most abundant element in the universe. It is found in trace amounts throughout the atmosphere and the oceans of Earth.

Discovered in 1898 by British chemists William Ramsay and Morris Travers, neon was first isolated from a sample of liquid air. They boiled the air and trapped the gases that escaped, including nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and krypton. When the krypton was gone, neon remained in its gaseous form, emitting a bright red light when ionized.

Fractional distillation

Neon can be produced from liquid air by fractional distillation, which involves heating the air to a temperature and pressure that separates the different gases. Nitrogen is collected at the top of the air-separation column while neon and helium are separated at the bottom of the column. The resulting mixture of gaseous gases is further purified by chemical distillation.


Neon is used in many applications, such as signs, vacuum tubes, and lasers. It is also a cryogenic refrigerant with higher heat transfer and lower freezing points than helium.

The global chip industry relies on neon for its lasers and lithography, so it has suffered from significant shortages of the element in recent years. This problem has worsened with the loss of old-style oxygen plants in Eastern Europe. These plants are being privatized, de-activated, or replaced with newer units without the capacity to recover rare gases like neon. As a result, there is less neon available from regional specialty gas suppliers.