Without helium, advances in cutting-edge technology fundamental for supporting the development of medical, manufacturing, astronomical and computer devices would never materialize. Helium is one of our most valuable resources and essential for solidifying the technology supply chain.
An inert gaseous element found in radioactive ores and natural gas, helium is so light that the Earth’s gravity can’t prevent it from escaping the planet. Obtained from ground sources, commercially produced helium mingles with natural gas in a way that makes extraction manageable and economical. Helium removed from natural gas forms from the radioactive decay produced by thorium and uranium in granitoid rocks.
How is Helium Used in Modern Technology?
In addition to fiber optics manufacturing, gas chromatography and cryogenics, helium can be found in:
Because helium has such a low boiling point, it offers excellent cooling properties for superconducting magnets needed to operate MRI machines. When cooled to around -450°F, helium transforms magnets into superconductors for operating scanners and creating stronger magnetic fields. The more powerful a magnetic field is, the clearer the details are in MRI scans. Using helium in high temperature situations such as cooling magnets is called “heat transfer”. Our world utilizes nearly 10 percent of helium supplies for various heat transfer operations.
Computer Hard Drives
Hard drives sealed in helium atmospheres reduce interior air turbulence to facilitate drive spin , emit less heat, save on power consumption and increase drive capacity. Helium used in hard drives can expand storage capacity of drives by as much as 50 percent. Reduced turbulence within hard drives and computers also means much less friction occurs, which allows hard drives to run at cooler temperatures to avoid overheating. Because they are tightly sealed, helium-supported hard drives stop contaminants (dust, moisture) from infiltrating the drive and causing premature failures.
Inner Atmosphere Operations
Pressure purging operations rely on helium where a certain gas is under pressure and needs replaced by helium according to how much of the pressured gas is consumed. The aerospace industry and NASA used enormous amounts of helium gas when they developed Delta IV rockets. Needed to preserve pressure levels in liquid oxygen fuel tanks, helium also prevented these fuel tanks from collapsing as liquid oxygen burned to fuel the rocket.
Heat Transfer Mechanism in New Generation Nuclear Reactors
An extremely efficient heat transfer gas, helium offers high thermal conductivity, is anti-corrosive and radiologically inert. In addition, helium will not impact the neutron multiplication factor nor alter aggregate state, allowing nuclear plants utilizing helium as their primary heat transfer medium to exhibit elevated operating temperatures for significantly improved efficiency and safety.
Industrial and Biomedical Lasers
Applied in helium-neon, CO2 and metal-vapor lasers, helium is needed for excitation in lasers designed for use in scientific research, spectroscopy, laser eye surgery, interferometry and holography. Helium-neon lasers exhibit exceptional Gaussian beam qualities that are unrivaled by other laser types and allow physicians to perform complex surgeries without risk to patients.
The Ultimate Use of Helium–the Hadron Collider
Without helium, the Large Hadron Collider could not operate its huge ring of superconducting magnets necessary for performing fantastic particle accelerations. According to the LHC’s official website, “superconducting magnets need chilled to a temperature even colder than space (‑271.3°C), which necessitates connection of the accelerator to a liquid helium distribution system”.
It’s hard to imagine a modern or future world without helium!