Physical Science

Unit 4: The Nature of Matter

WebQuest Projects



You see the signs everywhere you go – red, green, yellow, blue – flashing colors in the darkness of night. Evening outings would be very dull without neon signs. Neon signs tell us when stores are open, and whether or not a motel has a vacancy. They advertise everything from bowling alleys to nightclubs. What would Las Vegas be without its glittery neon signs? Just about everyone is familiar with neon signs, but do you know what makes them glow? Neon is a gas, one of the noble gases in the Periodic Table of Elements. It shares its inert properties with the other noble gases – argon, krypton, xenon, and radon. When electricity passes through these gases, they give off a glow. This glow is the basis for neon signs.

In the last few years, neon has begun to show up in places other than advertising. Neon artists have begun to use glass neon tubing in sculptures large and small. Some neon artists combine neon art with other media to create one-of-a-kind pieces. Some of these neon sculptures can even light up in sequence as music plays. What are the properties of the noble gases that allow them to be used in neon signs? Where do the colors in neon signs come from? How many different colors can be made in neon signs? What happens inside neon tubes to create the characteristic glow? In this WebQuest, you will find out the answers to these questions as you explore the art of neon.



Your job in this WebQuest is to explore the chemistry behind neon signs, and learn how the different colors of these signs are made. You will discover exactly how the noble gases are inserted into glass tubing, and how the gases are made to glow. You will also learn how different colors of neon signs are created. You will find out how neon glass tubing can be bent and how neon artists create their works of art. Then you will answer a set of questions about neon signs. Finally, you will design your own piece of neon art.



Look at the web sites given here to find the information that will enable you to answer the questions about neon signs and design your own piece of neon art.

  • WebElements – The Periodic Table on the WWW.
    Visit this site for information on the noble gases. You can click on any element in this periodic table to read about that element and its properties. Click on any of the noble gases to find out about that element.
  • Neon Colors.
    Visit this site to see many of the possible colors found in neon signs. Notice that colors listed are made with just three elements.
  • Just Neon’s FAQ Page.
    Go to this site to find out more about neon signs. You can learn exactly how a noble gas is introduced and held inside a glass tube at this site.
  • Neon: A Brief History of Signs.
    At this site you can find a history of neon’s discovery and its use in neon signs. You can find out here how the glass tubing used in neon signs is made.
  • The History of Neon Signs.
    Visit this site to learn about the inventor of the first neon lamp. You can find out how neon signs are made here, and about what colors are produced by using the elements argon and mercury.
  • Ray Kolty’s Neon FAQ.
    The Neon FAQ List. At this site, look for information about how neon tubes light up, their history, a demonstration on how neon tubes are made, and how the colors of neon tubes are created.
  • Museum of Neon Art.
    At this site you can see how artists are using neon tubing in artworks. Scroll down and click on web gallery to see some neon art pieces presently on exhibit at this museum.
  • Neon Artworks.
    Visit this site to see all kinds of uses for neon signs as art. Click on free standing sculptures to see some wonderful examples of neon art.
  • Glass Light Gallery.
    Go to this site to see some inspiring and unique glass art, including glass plasma art, Geissler tubes and neon sculpture. In addition, you'll find information biographies about the artists.



1 class period for research, answering the set of questions, and designing a piece of neon art



Read through the following set of questions before you begin your Internet research. As you explore each site, look for answers to the questions.

Questions about The Art of Neon

  1. Who discovered neon and when? Who first produced a neon lamp?

  2. Which of the noble gases produce a colored glow when excited by electricity passing through a glass tube in which the gas is confined? Name the gas and the characteristic color it produces.

  3. Which of the noble gases is most often used in neon signs?

  4. How is the gas introduced into the glass tubing used in neon signs?

  5. How does a neon tube produce light?

  6. What are the three different ways colored light can be produced in neon tubing?

  7. How long does a neon sign last?

  8. How many different colors can now be produced in neon tubing?

Once you have finished your Internet research and answered the above questions, you can begin to think about the design of your piece of neon art. Decide on what object you wish to depict. Think about the colors you want to include. If you need help, go back to the sites that offer neon art pieces for some ideas. You will need to draw your design and identify what colors you plan to use. If you can, identify what type of tubing you will use from question 6 above, and identify the gas or gases that will provide the colors you choose. Give an indication of size of the object as well.



In the process of completing this WebQuest, you’ve become informed about the chemistry of neon and other noble gases. You have discovered how neon signs are made and what goes on inside the glass tubing to produce the colors that we see. You have learned about three ways to produce a wide variety of colors in neon signs. You have developed research skills as you explored the web sites given and identified the relevant information to answer the set of questions above. You have also explored the use of neon tubing in art and designed an art piece of your own. Did you know that other gases besides neon are used in neon signs? Krypton gas produces a white light when electricity passes through it. Why isn’t krypton used in neon signs?



Glencoe Online Learning CenterScience HomeProduct InfoSite MapContact Us

The McGraw-Hill CompaniesGlencoe