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Bartlett Symposium Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Famous Discovery

On Friday, March 23, attendees travelled from as far as Nova Scotia to honour the 50th anniversary of Dr. Neil Bartlett’s discovery of the first noble gas compound at UBC. The 2012 Bartlett Symposium brought together alumni, students, staff and faculty from chemistry departments in the lower mainland to celebrate this momentous event.

Opening remarks by Department Head Dr. Michael Fryzuk and David Farrar, Provost and Vice President Academic touched on the impact of Bartlett’s discovery on not only the Chemistry Department but the University itself.

Guest speakers included Jack Passmore and Derek Lohmann, both former PhD students under Bartlett, whose fond memories brought to life the famed professor that once walked these halls. Noted chemists Herbert Roesky and Gary Schrobilgen finished the program with a broader look at the field of fluorine chemistry that arose from Bartlett’s work, and what this discovery has meant for science.

About Bartlett’s Discovery

Prior to 1962, scientists held the belief that the Group VIII elements He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe, and Rn - the Rare Gases - were chemically inert. In fact, they were often referred to as the Inert Gases. This led to the concept that atoms interact to achieve the ‘desirable’ state of a filled electron shell. In other words, our discussion of valence was tied to the inertness of the filled electron shells of the Inert Gases.

On the evening of March 23, 1962, Neil Bartlett was working alone in the Chemistry Department at UBC when he created the first noble gas compound. Bartlett had previously shown that oxygen gas could be oxidized by platinum hexafluoride to afford O2PtF6 and had come to the realization that the “inertness” of the Rare Gases might be a result of the reagents employed rather than a law of nature. Consequently he mixed xenon gas with platinum hexafluoride and obtained a solid that had the formula XePtF6. This was formulated as a salt of Xe+ and PtF6- and the octet rule was no longer inviolable.

The actual compound was later shown to be XeFPtF5 but the outcome was unchanged, and textbooks were rewritten to adapt to this new reality. Bartlett went on to develop this unprecedented chemistry at UBC and elsewhere. Other individuals and groups have also contributed to the general research area which now comprises a substantial body of work.

For more information on the Bartlett Symposium, visit

UPDATE: Photo Gallery available here

Photo courtesy of J. Kelly.