Neil Bartlett (chemist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Neil Bartlett
Born (1932-09-15)15 September 1932
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England
Died 5 August 2008(2008-08-05) (aged 75)
Walnut Creek, California, United States
Residence United States
Citizenship United Kingdom
Fields Chemistry
Institutions University of British Columbia
Princeton University
University of California, Berkeley
Alma mater King's College, University of Durham (Newcastle University)
Known for Creating one of the first noble gas compounds
Notable awards Elliott Cresson Medal (1968)
Davy Medal (2002)

Neil Bartlett (15 September 1932 – 5 August 2008) was a chemist who specialized in fluorine and compounds containing fluorine, and became famous for creating the first noble gas compounds. He taught chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.


Neil Bartlett was born on 15 September 1932 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.[1] Bartlett's interest in chemistry dated back to an experiment at Heaton Grammar School when he was only twelve years old, in which he prepared "beautiful, well-formed" crystals by reaction of aqueous ammonia with copper sulfate. He explored chemistry by constructing a makeshift lab in his parents’ home using chemicals and glassware he purchased from a local supply store. He went on to attend King's College, University of Durham (which went on to become Newcastle University) in the United Kingdom where he obtained a Bachelor of Science (1954) and then a doctorate (1958).

In 1958, Bartlett's career began upon being appointed a lecturer in chemistry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada where he would ultimately reach the rank of full professor. During his time at the university he made his seminal discovery that noble gases were indeed reactive enough to form bonds. He remained there until 1966, when he moved to Princeton University as a professor of chemistry and a member of the research staff at Bell Laboratories. He then went on to join the chemistry department at the University of California, Berkeley in 1969 as a professor of chemistry until his retirement in 1993. He was also a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from 1969 to 1999. In 2000, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He died on August 5, 2008 of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.


Bartlett's main specialty was the chemistry of fluorine and of compounds containing fluorine. In 1962, Bartlett prepared the first noble gas compound, xenon hexafluoroplatinate[2], Xe+[PtF6]. This contradicted established models of the nature of valency, as it was believed that all noble gases were entirely inert to chemical combination. He subsequently produced and reproduced several other fluorides of xenon: XeF2, XeF4, and XeF6.[3]


In 1968 he was awarded the Elliott Cresson Medal. In 1973 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society (United Kingdom). In 1976 he received the Welch Award in Chemistry for his synthesis of chemical compounds of noble gases and the consequent opening of broad new fields of research in the inorganic chemistry. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1977.[4] In 1979 he was honored as a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the prestigious Davy Medal in 2002 for his discovery that the noble gases were not that noble after all. Previous recipients of the Davy Medal had included people as diverse as Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, the inventor of the Bunsen burner, and Albert Ladenburg, who suggested the existence of the compound prismane. In 2006 research into the reactivity of noble gases was designated jointly by the American Chemical Society and the Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) as an International Historic Chemical Landmark at the University of British Columbia in recognition of its significance to the scientific understanding of the chemical bond.[1]


In January 1963, Bartlett and his graduate student P. R. Rao were hospitalized after an explosion in the laboratory. As they looked at what they thought might be the first crystals of XeF2, the compound exploded getting shards of glass in eyes of both men. According to Bartlett, he thought that the compound may have contained water molecules, and he and Rao took off their glasses to get a better look. They were both taken to the hospital for four weeks, and Bartlett was left blind in one eye. The last piece of glass from this accident was removed 27 years later.[5]


  1. ^ a b "Neil Bartlett and the Reactive Noble Gases". American Chemical Society. Retrieved June 5, 2012. 
  2. ^ Bartlett (June 1962). "Xenon hexafluoroplatinate (V) Xe+[PtF6]". Proceedings of the Chemical Society (London: Chemical Society) (6): 218. doi:10.1039/PS9620000197. 
  3. ^ Bartlett, Neil (2000). Forty Years of Fluorine Chemistry: King's College, Newcastle, The University of British Columbia, Princeton University, and The University of California at Berkeley. University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. 
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 19, 2011. 
  5. ^ Bell, Philip. Elegant Solutions, 10 Beautiful Experiments in Chemistry.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]