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Penning mixture

A Penning mixture ((Weston 1968, p. 334),(Bylander 1979, p. 65)) is a mixture of gases used in electric lighting or displaying fixtures. Although the popular phrase for the most common of these is a neon lamp, it's more efficient to have the glass tube filled not with pure neon, but with a Penning mixture, which is defined as a mixture of one inert gas with a tiny amount of another gas, one that has lower ionization voltage than the main constituent (or constituents).


The other gas, a quench gas, has to have lower ionization potential than the first excited state of the noble gas. The energy of the excited noble gas atoms then can ionize the quench gas particles by energy transfer via collisions; known as Penning effect.

A very common Penning mixture of about 98-99.5% of neon with 0.5-2% of argon is used in some neon lamps, especially those rated at 110 volts. The mixture is easier to ionize than either neon and argon alone, and lowers the striking voltage at which the tube becomes conductive and starts producing light. The optimal amount of argon is about 0.25%, but some of it gets absorbed into the borosilicate glass used for the tubes, so higher concentrations are used to take the losses in account; higher amounts are used for higher-power tubes, as hot glass absorbs argon better. This argon content changes the color of the "neon light", making it slightly more yellowish.

A Penning mixture of neon and argon is also used as a starter gas in sodium vapor lamps, where it is responsible for the faint reddish glow before the sodium emission kicks in.

The Penning mixture used in plasma displays is usually helium or neon with few percents of xenon, at several hundred torr.

Penning mixtures with the formulas of argon-xenon, neon-argon, argon-acetylene, and xenon-TMA are used as filler gases in gaseous ionization detectors.

Other kinds of Penning mixtures include helium-xenon.

See also


  • Bylander, E.G. (1979), written at New York, , McGraw Hill, ISBN 0-07-009510-8, LCCN 78-31849.
  • Weston, G.F. (1968), written at London, , ILIFFE Books Ltd (Reprints available under "Books"...).
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Penning_mixture". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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