Sunday, February 12, 2017

The First Helium Compounds

Can helium form compounds?
Helium, He, is the first Group 18 element or Noble Gas element.
In the nucleus of a helium atom there are 2 protons, and surrounding the nucleus there are just 2 electrons. These 2 electrons complete the first energy level and require large amounts of energy to remove. For this reason, an atom of helium is very stable and does not undergo chemical reactions on Earth.
But what if you tried to react helium, a non-metal, with a highly reactive metal, such as sodium, at extremely high pressures (greater than 113 GPa)?
Utah University Chemists predicted that under these conditions helium and sodium would form a compound. Then, high pressure synthesis in a diamond anvil actually produced a stable compound with the formula Na2He.
On the left hand side is a "ball and stick" model of Na2He in which the purple balls represent sodium and the white balls represent helium.You can see that the structure is cubic.
On the right hand side is a polyhedral representation of Na2He in which sodium atoms form the cubes (Na8). Half of these cubes are occupied by helium atoms, and these are shown as grey boxes. But the other half of the cubes are occupied by 2 electrons and these are shown in the diagram as red spheres.
The chemists are predicting that other compounds of helium may also be possible, such as Na2HeO.

 Utah State University. "Up, up and away: Chemists say 'yes,' helium can form compounds: Helium and sodium form stable compound at high pressure." ScienceDaily. (accessed February 12, 2017).

Further Reading:
Introduction to the Modern Periodic Table 
 Bohr Model of the Atom 
Evidence for Electron Configuration of an Atom
Subshell Electronic Configuration

Suggested Study Questions:
  1. What is the atomic number for
    • helium
    • sodium
  2.  How many electrons are present in an atom of
    • helium
    • sodium
  3.  Write the simple electronic configuration for an atom of each element below:
    • helium
    • sodium
  4.  Write the electron configuration for an atom of each element below using subshell notation:
    • helium
    • sodium
  5. Write an equation for the loss of an electron from a gaseous atom of sodium. 
  6. Give the simple electronic configuration for the ion of sodium produced above.
  7. Give the electronic configuration of the sodium ion produced above in terms of subshells.
  8. Explain why the first ionisation of helium is so much higher than the first ionisation energy of sodium.
  9. Explain why sodium readily forms compounds.
  10. Explain why it is extremely difficult to produce helium compounds, and why it has required such enormous pressures in order to produce the first helium compound.

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