Love Neon is Easy

Another innovation that led to the invention of the neon lamp is George Claude’s process for air liquefaction. He developed a method that allowed gasses to be made liquid by cooling them and then heating them. This enabled him to produce large amounts of pure neon. The noble gas was discovered many years ago and displayed unique properties when exposed to electricity. The neon lamp was not patentable due to the difficulties in getting pure neon. It took more than a decade.

After purifying the neon (via the capture of runoff gases emitted by the liquefaction) Claude placed it in enormous glass vacuum tubes, much like today’s fluorescent lamps. Then he ran an electric current through the tubes at both ends. Later tubes ran the current through one end, but the result was the same: a bright orange/red glow.

Although many people associate neon lighting with a variety of colors, it actually emits only orange-red light. Quanta is the fixed-size energy that electrons in atoms such as neon emit when they get excited. The size of the light waves corresponds to the way the human eye perceives a particular color. A larger wave might appear blue while a smaller one might appear red. Any other colors, such as purple, yellow, and so forth, can be seen in most neon lights. Mixing gasses is a great way to get other colors (e.g., purple, yellow, etc.)

This is how fireworks are made. A firework emits a different color when certain metal salts have been burned. Blue fireworks are made from strontium and lithium salts. Orange comes from calcium and copper. The same process is used to create neon lighting.

We still love neon light as designers are always looking for new lighting technologies. Although it isn’t the most efficient way to light up a room, it can also be very energy-intensive. It is easy to fall in love with neon because of its many unique characteristics. 

Neon signs are in some ways a uniquely American experience. The United States was the first nation to embrace neon signs after WWII. It’s likely that neon’s aesthetic qualities, as well as a sense of nostalgia, are what most endear neon light lovers and IA designers. They help create small moments to escape from work and retail environments all over the globe.