Friday, September 21, 2012

Some Science Research Ends for Lack of Helium

Balloon Payment 

Without helium, the party will really be over

If oil disappeared tomorrow, civilization would halt. That's not news. But a host of unheralded substances also underpin society as we know it.

One of them is helium. The lighter-than-air element was in the news recently after shortages hit the party-balloon business.

When it's not levitating blimps, helium liquefies at the lowest temperatures of any element. Because it effectively never freezes, it's crucial for cryogenic tasks like cooling the superconducting magnets in MRI machines — a use that by itself accounts for 20 percent of U.S. helium consumption. Other uses include: arc welding; pressurizing and purging fuel tanks for NASA and the military; and manufacturing semiconductors and optical fiber.

Shortages haven't hit those fields yet. But another small-scale use has been affected: basic scientific research. "A lot of labs have not been able to get their liquid helium," says Penn State physics professor Moses H. Chan. "Some people have [had] to stop the research."


Source: Pittsburgh City Paper.

Related Blog Post:

Helium Shortage Affects Science, Industry, & Public (2012 May 22)



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