Behind the scenes of Education in Chemistry 50 years ago - The not-so-stable octet theory

Spotlight on volume one

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In my foray into the EiC archives to bring you an article from volume one, I came across an interesting article about the chemistry of noble gases. The article was based on a lecture given by the author, Professor N N Greenwood from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, to sixth form pupils in November 1963. A quick Google search gave me some background information about Professor Greenwood. 

He was an Australian-British chemist born in 1925. In 1961, he was recruited to the first established chair of inorganic chemistry in the country and went on to pursue a wide and varied career. He was appointed as head of the department of inorganic and structural chemistry at the University of Leeds in 1971. Sadly he died in November 2012, 50 years after giving this lecture.

Cutting-edge chemistry

There is very little noble gas content in our modern curriculum but I chose this article because it was interesting and an example of cutting-edge chemistry at the time. It is based on reactions discovered in 1962, namely the formation of xenon hexafluoroplatinate (V), produced when xenon is placed in contact with gaseous platinum hexafluoride. The resulting chemistry clearly disproved the notion of noble gases being inert and put paid to the so-called 'stable octet' theory of their electronic configuration. 

In the rest of this article, Professor Greenwood discusses the preparation, properties, reactions and bonding of a wide range of noble gas compounds in some detail. Of particular interest to students now may be the thermochemistry of these reactions, where he analyses and explains Born-Haber cycles for the formation of the compounds. Beware the units though! Fortunately, we have left kcal/mole in the past. 

Interestingly, Professor Greenwood served as chairman of the IUPAC Commission on Atomic Weights from 1970-1975.