Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Noble gases are chemically neutral. They don't react with anything.

So, how were they discovered?

share|cite|improve this question
Inert gas is an engineering term; I think you meant noble gas. – mbq Nov 23 '10 at 9:48
As stated this sounds more like a chemistry question to me, not a physics question. Although admittedly there were physics techniques involved in the discoveries, and if this were rewritten to focus specifically on those techniques (mainly spectroscopy I guess), it might seem more on-topic. – David Z Nov 23 '10 at 11:31
Rayleigh and Ramsay received the 1904 Nobel Prizes in Physics and in Chemistry, respectively, for their discovery of the noble gases. You might find this amusing! – Pratik Deoghare Nov 23 '10 at 13:26
I think there's room on this site for interesting physical chemistry questions. – j.c. Nov 25 '10 at 15:44
And by the way, they where discovered by there physical quality (volume, density), despite their chemical (almost) perfect neutrality. – Frédéric Grosshans Nov 26 '10 at 11:36
up vote 12 down vote accepted

First of all, this is not true that noble gases do not form any compounds -- it can be done with some chemical tricks, usually using fluorine and some hell conditions.

Yet, you don't need any chemistry to detect a new element -- helium was for instance first spotted in the sunlight spectrum. The isolation can also be made by physical means only; the most efficient idea is to cool down air isolating each new fraction that turns into liquid, but there are dozens of other.

share|cite|improve this answer
Thanks! I am surprised to know that they can actually form compounds! wow! – Pratik Deoghare Nov 23 '10 at 13:28

The history is summed up in . The concept of noble gas emerged from the discovery of argon.

As said by mpq, the first to be seen spectroscopically was Helium. Then Argon was detected as a component of the air less reactive than nitrogen ( ).

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.