Celebrating 24 Years on the Web
Find science on or your birthday


Stories About Chemistry


9. A Solution Which Brought No Consolation

Even Mendeleyev was perplexed at first. He even ventured to suggest the �saving� idea that argon was no new element at all. It was, he said, a sort of compound of nitrogen with three atoms in its molecule: N3; like the ozone molecule O3 which exists alongside the oxygen molecule O2. But finally the facts convinced Mendeleyev of his error and he acknowledged Ramsay to be right. And now all the textbooks in the world name the English scientist as the discoverer of the group of noble gases, and nobody tries to challenge this fact.

Cartoon of He, H and O compressed gas cylinders, with a dirigible floating over them

For twenty years N. Morozov, a member of the �Narodnaya Volya� group languished in the dungeons of the Schlusselburg Fort. Afterwards, under Soviet power, he became a world renowned scientist. The impenetrable walls of his stone prison were unable to break his will or to keep him away from scientific work. His persistent studies materialized in a number of daring and original ideas and hypotheses. In prison Morozov finished a study devoted to the Periodic System. In it he predicted the existence of elements which should be chemically inactive. By the time Morozov was released, the inert gases had already been discovered and had found their place in the table of elements.

It is said that Morozov visited Mendeleyev not long before the latter�s death, and that the two great compatriots had a long talk about the Periodic Law. Unfortunately, the contents of this talk are unknown. Mendeleyev died not long before the mystery of the inertness of the noble gases was solved. The secret was as follows.

The physicists who had so often, and still do; come to the aid of the chemists, established that an outer shell containing 8 electrons is very stable. It is a sort of ideal of stability of an electron shell. And hence, there is no reason for it to donate or accept electrons. Thus the reason for the �nobility� of the inert gases is the 8 electrons in their outermost shell (or 2-in the case of the helium atom). The two electron shell of helium is no less stable than the octet ones of the other chemical sloths.

And another thing became clear to the chemists: the addition of the zero group to the Periodic Table was not just a forced measure; without it the Periodic System would have looked like an unfinished edifice, because each of its periods ends in an inert gas after which the next electron shell begins to fill up and thus the next storey of the Big House begins to form.

As you see, it all turned out quite simple. Despite their aristocratic title, the noble gases exhibited some ability to do practical work: helium found usage for filling balloons and dirigibles and came to the aid of divers against caisson disease.

Argon and neon lights decorate city streets at night. But maybe �nevertheless it does move!� Maybe there is something physicists have not thought out or calculated yet, or perhaps chemists have not yet exhausted all the means of making substances react with one another?

< back     next >

Thank you for sharing.
- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

by Ian Ellis
who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.