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In the shell atomic model, electrons occupy different energy levels, or shells. The K and L shells are shown for a neon atom.

Screened from the nucleus by intervening electrons, the outer (valence) electrons of the atoms of the heavier noble gases are held less firmly and can be removed (ionized) more easily from the atoms than can the electrons of the lighter noble gases. The energy required for the removal of one electron is called the first ionization energy. In 1962, while working at the University of British Columbia, British chemist Neil Bartlett discovered that platinum hexafluoride would remove an electron from (oxidize) molecular oxygen to form the salt . The first ionization energy of xenon is very close to that of oxygen; thus Bartlett thought that a salt of xenon might be formed similarly. In the same year, Bartlett established that it is indeed possible to remove electrons from xenon by chemical means. He showed that the interaction of PtF6 vapour in the presence of xenon gas at room temperature produced a yellow-orange solid compound then formulated as . (This compound is now known to be a mixture of , , and PtF5.) Shortly after the initial report of this discovery, two other teams of chemists independently prepared and subsequently reported fluorides of xenon—namely, XeF2 and XeF4. These achievements were soon followed by the preparation of other xenon compounds and of the fluorides of radon (1962) and krypton (1963).

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In 2006, scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, announced that oganesson, the next noble gas, had been made in 2002 and 2005 in a cyclotron. (Most elements with atomic numbers greater than 92—i.e., the transuranium elements—have to be made in particle accelerators.) No physical or chemical properties of oganesson can be directly determined since only a few atoms of oganesson have been produced.