Neon is a chemical element and essentially a noble gas. This means that like the other noble gases (helium, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon), it is odorless and colorless with very low chemical reactivity.
Today, we see neon used around us every day, or night as the case may be, in signs that welcome us to our favorite pub, club, bar or even chip shop.
Neon lights are made of glass tubes which are filled with gases that don’t react when joined with other chemicals.
A tube is filled with neon gas and the electrodes are fixed to the end of it. As the energy journeys through the tube, the gas begins to glow, enters a plasma state and turns red.
As well as neon gas, other noble gases including argon and krypton are also frequently used and these achieve different colors.
To turn these into neon signs, the tubes are manipulated into artistic shapes and letters by holding the glass over a burner until it reaches a certain temperature. The tube is then gently turned around until the glass gets soft enough to bend it into the design required.
These shaped neon tubes can then be attached to prints, wood or placed into boxes before they are mounted on walls as decorative signage.
Are There Any Dangers Associated with Neon?
Some people worry that the gases used to produce neon signs can be dangerous if the tubes are compromised and the gases escape. They also worry that if the neon signs become too hot they could burn someone.
Neither of these is concerns that people should worry about. When neon tubes are damaged or broken, the electric energy is instantly switched off. Additionally, most people don’t realize that neon is non-toxic and chemically unreactive. In fact, we breathe in neon on a daily basis as there are tiny quantities in the air all the time. But it doesn’t do us, nor the environment any harm whatsoever.
When produced and installed correctly, neon itself will only ever reach a warm temperature which is not hot enough to burn anyone. The electrodes that are joined to the ends of the neon tubes, do get hotter and should not be touched. However, these ends are typically covered with rubber caps to avoid anyone being hurt. Therefore it can confidently be said that neon is completely safe to touch and will not burn you.
Neon tubes in signage are extremely safe to use, providing they are taken care of, maintained properly and not tampered with. Neon has been used for over 100 years and today is used in everything advertising and marketing related from highly visible billboards to the restaurant and nightclub signage.
Where Else Can You Find Neon?
In older television sets, the glass screen used to go all the way back into the television set. Neon was one of the elements used in the TV tubes in these sets.
When something is cryogenically frozen, it means it was frozen very quickly. Neon is good to use in this process because when it becomes very cold it turns into a liquid that is non-reactive and won’t combine with other elements.
Neon is also used in lasers which are then used to carry out scientific experiments, and sometimes doctors even use them in surgery.