Sci/Tech Helium shortage prompts scientist's balloon use warning

tom_mai78101

The Helper Connoisseur / Ex-MineCraft Host
Staff member
It is something guaranteed to catch the eye of most young children on a day out - a huge bunch of floating, brightly-coloured helium balloons for sale.

And for many people, a vital element in arranging a party is sitting down with a cylinder of helium to fill dozens of balloons with the lighter-than-air gas.

But according to one academic, such occasions may soon be a thing of the past. Tom Welton, a professor of sustainable chemistry at Imperial College, London, believes that a global shortage of helium means it should be used more carefully.

Helium cools the large magnets inside MRI scanners - the medical devices that provide doctors with detailed images of what is happening inside their patients' bodies.

Read more here.
 

Dan

The New Helper.Net gives me great Anxiety... o.O;;
MRI Scanners? PAHHLEEEASE. I choose balloons!
 

Nyph

Occasional News Reader
Anybody up for a party where we seal the rooms and fill with a 80/20 helium/oxygen mix?
 

Slapshot136

Divide et impera
but.. balloons leak.. and the helium just goes back into the atmosphere? or do we get helium from somewhere else?
 

tom_mai78101

The Helper Connoisseur / Ex-MineCraft Host
Staff member
but.. balloons leak.. and the helium just goes back into the atmosphere? or do we get helium from somewhere else?
If we are able to farm helium from our Sun, we wouldn't have to worry much about this. The only thing that I know, our helium reserves are scarce and limited. Earth can't reproduce helium without constant radiation and nuclear fissions, something everyone don't want near their homes.
 

Slapshot136

Divide et impera
but we don't actually "use" helium.. it's not like we burn it or react it with anything... we just move it from place to place - it's the 6th most common gas in the atmosphere (OK it's only 0.000524%), but it should be possible to just filter it out somehow..
 

tom_mai78101

The Helper Connoisseur / Ex-MineCraft Host
Staff member
but we don't actually "use" helium.. it's not like we burn it or react it with anything... we just move it from place to place - it's the 6th most common gas in the atmosphere (OK it's only 0.000524%), but it should be possible to just filter it out somehow..
Harder to filter that out, when helium can't be found below 4000 feet above the ground (in the air, of course). They will float near the top of the atmosphere, and will get blown away by the solar winds outside of the atmosphere, which makes finding helium even harder and costly.
 

tom_mai78101

The Helper Connoisseur / Ex-MineCraft Host
Staff member
Can't we just send giant baskets into the sky to pull the helium down?
Wished it was that simple. I'm not chemist nor astrophysicist, but this is what I concur:

Solar winds (magnetized ion charges) may also change the molecules of helium (inserting or knocking out ions from helium), therefore if you bring a basket of them down from the sky, you might end up with products that are not helium.
 

Nyph

Occasional News Reader
I'm pretty sure gas diffusion means that helium isn't going to concentrate at the top of the atmosphere, rather it will be fairly constant throughout.
 
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