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Concept: Noble gas


Van der Waals forces are among the weakest, yet most decisive interactions governing condensation and aggregation processes and the phase behaviour of atomic and molecular matter. Understanding the resulting structural motifs and patterns has become increasingly important in studies of the nanoscale regime. Here we measure the paradigmatic van der Waals interactions represented by the noble gas atom pairs Ar-Xe, Kr-Xe and Xe-Xe with a Xe-functionalized tip of an atomic force microscope at low temperature. Individual rare gas atoms were fixed at node sites of a surface-confined two-dimensional metal-organic framework. We found that the magnitude of the measured force increased with the atomic radius, yet detailed simulation by density functional theory revealed that the adsorption induced charge redistribution strengthened the van der Waals forces by a factor of up to two, thus demonstrating the limits of a purely atomic description of the interaction in these representative systems.

Concepts: Electric charge, Fundamental physics concepts, Atom, Van der Waals force, Gas, Helium, Noble gas, Electron shell


Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have enhanced energy production but raised concerns about drinking-water contamination and other environmental impacts. Identifying the sources and mechanisms of contamination can help improve the environmental and economic sustainability of shale-gas extraction. We analyzed 113 and 20 samples from drinking-water wells overlying the Marcellus and Barnett Shales, respectively, examining hydrocarbon abundance and isotopic compositions (e.g., C2H6/CH4, δ(13)C-CH4) and providing, to our knowledge, the first comprehensive analyses of noble gases and their isotopes (e.g., (4)He, (20)Ne, (36)Ar) in groundwater near shale-gas wells. We addressed two questions. (i) Are elevated levels of hydrocarbon gases in drinking-water aquifers near gas wells natural or anthropogenic? (ii) If fugitive gas contamination exists, what mechanisms cause it? Against a backdrop of naturally occurring salt- and gas-rich groundwater, we identified eight discrete clusters of fugitive gas contamination, seven in Pennsylvania and one in Texas that showed increased contamination through time. Where fugitive gas contamination occurred, the relative proportions of thermogenic hydrocarbon gas (e.g., CH4, (4)He) were significantly higher (P < 0.01) and the proportions of atmospheric gases (air-saturated water; e.g., N2, (36)Ar) were significantly lower (P < 0.01) relative to background groundwater. Noble gas isotope and hydrocarbon data link four contamination clusters to gas leakage from intermediate-depth strata through failures of annulus cement, three to target production gases that seem to implicate faulty production casings, and one to an underground gas well failure. Noble gas data appear to rule out gas contamination by upward migration from depth through overlying geological strata triggered by horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing.

Concepts: Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Gas, Atmosphere, Natural gas, Noble gas, Neon, Oil well


Anaesthesia for medical purposes was introduced in the 19th century. However, the physiological mode of anaesthetic drug actions on the nervous system remains unclear. One of the remaining questions is how these different compounds, with no structural similarities and even chemically inert elements such as the noble gas xenon, act as anaesthetic agents inducing loss of consciousness. The main goal here was to determine if anaesthetics affect the same or similar processes in plants as in animals and humans.

Concepts: Nervous system, Cell, Plant, Animal, Anesthesia, Periodic table, Noble gas, Argon


The isotopes (129)Xe, produced from the radioactive decay of extinct (129)I, and (136)Xe, produced from extinct (244)Pu and extant (238)U, have provided important constraints on early mantle outgassing and volatile loss from Earth. The low ratios of radiogenic to non-radiogenic xenon ((129)Xe/(130)Xe) in ocean island basalts (OIBs) compared with mid-ocean-ridge basalts (MORBs) have been used as evidence for the existence of a relatively undegassed primitive deep-mantle reservoir. However, the low (129)Xe/(130)Xe ratios in OIBs have also been attributed to mixing between subducted atmospheric Xe and MORB Xe, which obviates the need for a less degassed deep-mantle reservoir. Here I present new noble gas (He, Ne, Ar, Xe) measurements from an Icelandic OIB that reveal differences in elemental abundances and (20)Ne/(22)Ne ratios between the Iceland mantle plume and the MORB source. These observations show that the lower (129)Xe/(130)Xe ratios in OIBs are due to a lower I/Xe ratio in the OIB mantle source and cannot be explained solely by mixing atmospheric Xe with MORB-type Xe. Because (129)I became extinct about 100 million years after the formation of the Solar System, OIB and MORB mantle sources must have differentiated by 4.45 billion years ago and subsequent mixing must have been limited. The Iceland plume source also has a higher proportion of Pu- to U-derived fission Xe, requiring the plume source to be less degassed than MORBs, a conclusion that is independent of noble gas concentrations and the partitioning behaviour of the noble gases with respect to their radiogenic parents. Overall, these results show that Earth’s mantle accreted volatiles from at least two separate sources and that neither the Moon-forming impact nor 4.45 billion years of mantle convection has erased the signature of Earth’s heterogeneous accretion and early differentiation.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Gas, Xenon, Noble gas, Neon, Mantle, Argon, Krypton


Geochemical monitoring of groundwater and soil gas emission pointed out precursor and/or coseismic anomalies of noble gases associated with earthquakes, but there was lack of plausible physico-chemical basis. A laboratory experiment of rock fracturing and noble gas emission was conducted, but there is no quantitative connection between the laboratory results and observation in field. We report here deep groundwater helium anomalies related to the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake, which is an inland crustal earthquake with a strike-slip fault and a shallow hypocenter (10 km depth) close to highly populated areas in Southwest Japan. The observed helium isotope changes, soon after the earthquake, are quantitatively coupled with volumetric strain changes estimated from a fault model, which can be explained by experimental studies of helium degassing during compressional loading of rock samples. Groundwater helium is considered as an effective strain gauge. This suggests the first quantitative linkage between geochemical and seismological observations and may open the possibility to develop a new monitoring system to detect a possible strain change prior to a hazardous earthquake in regions where conventional borehole strain meter is not available.

Concepts: Scientific method, Atom, Gas, Helium, Earthquake, Noble gas, Neon, Argon


Sauvignon blanc wines are produced under a wide variety of winemaking conditions, some of which include different fruit-ripening levels, cold soaks and the use of fining agents and inert gases. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sensory variations among these wines may have to do with their phenolic composition and concentration. Therefore the aim of this work was to study the effects of different winemaking conditions typically used in Chile on the phenolic composition and concentration of Sauvignon blanc wines.

Concepts: Oenology, Fermentation, Noble gas, Gases, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Chilean wine


Laser-ablated beryllium atom has been codeposited at 4K with hydrogen sulfide in excess noble gas matrices. Four noble-gas compounds NgBeS (Ng = Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe) and BeS2 molecule are identified on the basis of the S-34 isotopic substitution, DFT and CCSD(T) theoretical predictions, and comparison of noble-gas substitution. The agreement between the experimental and calculated vibrational frequencies supports the identification of these molecules. The dissociation energies are calculated at 1.6, 12.6, 10.7 and 13.4 kcal/mol for NeBeS, ArBeS, KrBeS and XeBeS, respectively, at the CCSD(T) level. The BeS Lewis acid molecule favors strong chemical binding between the Be and Ng atoms.

Concepts: Water, Molecule, Chemistry, Atom, Chemical bond, Chemical compound, Helium, Noble gas


Numerous death cases due to suffocation in a toxic or oxygen deficient gas atmosphere have been described in the literature, but unfortunately especially cases involving inert gases like helium are often presented without detailed toxicological findings. Observations on two suicides are reported, one by helium and the other by argon inhalation. During autopsies gas samples from the lungs were collected directly into headspace vials by a procedure ensuring minimal loss and dilution. Qualitative gas analyses were performed using headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (HS-GC/MS). For carrier gas the commonly used helium was replaced by hydrogen. Qualitative positive results were obtained in the argon case, but the case involving helium revealed negative findings. The use of HS-GC/MS enables in principle to detect inert gases like argon or helium. However, a number of factors may later influence the results as, e.g. a longer period of time between death and sampling or pre-analytical artefacts during sampling of such highly volatile substances. In absence of analytical data supporting helium exposure, the causes of death in the actual cases were found to be asphyxia and in both cases the manner was suicide.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, Atmosphere, Noble gas, Suicide methods, Argon, Asphyxiant gas


The combination of a fluorine atom and a cyclopropane ring, which both possess unique structural and chemical features, can generate new relevant building blocks for the discovery of efficient fluorinated biologically active agents. In this review, we report the different strategies to access monofluorocyclopropanes and highlight some of their attractive biological applications.

Concepts: Hydrogen, Molecule, Chemistry, Atom, Greek loanwords, Chemical element, Fluorine, Noble gas


The confinement of noble gases on nanostructured surfaces, in contrast to bulk materials, at non-cryogenic temperatures represents a formidable challenge. In this work, individual Ar atoms are trapped at 300 K in nano-cages consisting of (alumino)silicate hexagonal prisms forming a two-dimensional array on a planar surface. The trapping of Ar atoms is detected in situ using synchrotron-based ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. The atoms remain in the cages upon heating to 400 K. The trapping and release of Ar is studied combining surface science methods and density functional theory calculations. While the frameworks stay intact with the inclusion of Ar atoms, the permeability of gasses (for example, CO) through them is significantly affected, making these structures also interesting candidates for tunable atomic and molecular sieves. These findings enable the study of individually confined noble gas atoms using surface science methods, opening up new opportunities for fundamental research.

Concepts: Atom, Gas, Helium, Noble gas, Neon, Argon, Noble gases, Electron shell