Article ID: CBB764511208

Why Isn’t Noble Gas Chemistry 30 Years Older? The Failed (?) 1933 Experiment of Yost and Kaye (2015)


We know of a number of unsuccessful attempts to synthesize a noble gas compound (1)—probably there were others of which we do not know—that preceded the first announcement by Neil Bartlett in 1962 (2), now a little over half a century old. Perhaps the best documented of these was reported in a 1933 paper in JACS—a relatively rare instance of publishing of a negative finding!—by Caltech chemistry professor Donald M. Yost and his graduate student Albert L. Kaye (3). After Bartlett’s success, which was quickly followed by others, Yost’s failure became a subject of some interest, probably due in part to the significant role of Linus Pauling. A variety of explanations have been offered for why Yost was unable to generate any compound of xenon with fluorine—or, perhaps, that he did generate something but failed to recognize it. But these would-be explainers appear to have relied mostly on their recollection of what Yost and others did; and in many cases that recollection was faulty. Examination of the actual details of Yost’s paper, in comparison with those of the later successful reports, shows that the subsequent interpretation by a number of commentators—researchers, reviewers, biographers—has been imprecise, unsupported, or just plain wrong. On the other hand, one particular detail of Yost’s experiment, which appears to have gone completely unnoticed, offers a plausible explanation for why Yost did not— though he could well have—beat Bartlett and his contemporaries by nearly 30 years.

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Authors & Contributors
Tomory, Leslie
Seifert, Vanessa
Dee Ann Castel
Maier, Norbert M.
Mainz, Vera V.
Kenndler, Ernst
Substantia: An International Journal of the History of Chemistry
The Chemical Educator
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group Newsletter
Research in the History of Technology
Springer International Publishing
Oxford University Press
Franco Angeli
Harvard University
Chemical elements
Experiments and experimentation
Discovery in science
Dalton, John
Pauling, Linus Carl
Göttling, Johann Friedrich August
Bartlett, Neil
Natterer, Johann August
Henry, William Charles
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
20th century, early
Great Britain
United States
Royal Society of London
California Institute of Technology

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