Helium is used for much more than balloons

ByMabel R. Acton

Jul 21, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Little ones may well know that balloons are lousy for wildlife. This is mainly because, when it is filled with helium, a balloon can vacation a lot of miles into the sky in advance of it loses the potential to float. When it falls again to Earth, the string, rubber or Mylar turns into a hazard for birds, turtles and numerous other creatures that can turn into tangled in or choke on what they mistake for a delicious treat.

But lots of folks really do not realize that there is one more rationale to hold on to those people balloons: The helium inside is a scarce useful resource.

“I think that one of the coolest things is that helium is the 2nd-most abundant factor in the full universe, but ironically, on earth Earth, we only have quite, incredibly compact quantities,” explained Santiago Toledo, a chemist at American University in Washington, D.C.

This is correct for a number of causes. For case in point, helium atoms don’t like to make bonds with other things or even them selves. This final results in them having a pretty low density — substantially reduced than the density of the particles that make up air, Toledo stated.

So when you force a bunch of helium into an enclosed area, such as a balloon, that minimal density allows the helium to increase previously mentioned the heavier air around it. This is why helium balloons float.

It is also why Earth has so minimal of the stuff, he reported. Most of the planet’s helium is locked away underground, generally as a mixture with normal gasoline, mentioned Toledo. But any time helium is exposed to open up air, it will disappear into area.

This is variety of poor news, because helium has plenty of uses past birthday party decorations. When most of us know it as a gas, helium will become a liquid at really chilly temperatures.

“We’re talking about temperatures that are just about what is named ‘absolute zero,’ which is the coldest anything at all can be in the universe,” Toledo mentioned. Simply because of this quirk, scientists use liquid helium to keep many styles of instruments ice-cold.

If you’ve ever experienced to get a medical check named an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, helium was there to amazing the superconducting magnets that make the devices get the job done. In addition, helium is critical for building digital gadgets such as smartphones, as effectively as the fiber-optic cables that give us the internet. Helium is also important to make certain NASA’s rockets perform correctly and is an crucial section of machines called magnetometers, which aid the U.S. military services detect enemy submarines.

The very good information, explained Toledo, is that balloons really do not have only helium, but rather a combination of lightweight gases. Nevertheless when he sees one get loose into the sky, all he can believe about is how a valuable resource is just floating up, up and absent.