Facts about helium gas which is used for inflating balloons
Facts about helium
Helium the element
Atomic Symbol: He
Atomic Number: 2
The name is from the Greek "helios" which means "sun". Helium can be cooled enough to liquefy it; however, it is the only element that cannot be frozen solid at very low temperatures.
Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen.Helium is a very small and extremely light gaseous element. It is odorless and tasteless. It is the least reactive of all elements: that is, it is inert and is not known to react with any other element or ion. As a result, there are no helium-bearing minerals. However, helium is given off as a by-product of the breakdown of radioactive elements in rocks and minerals.There is no helium in the human body, and since it is so inert, helium is not harmful to any life form.
It was discovered as a yellow line in the spectrum of the sun by the French astonomer Pierre-Jules Janssen while he was studying an eclipsein 1868. Sir Norman Lockyer realised that this line signified an unknown element which he called "helium". The Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay later found helium on earth in 1895. The discovery of radium in 1898 showed that helium was indeed a by-product of the natural breakdown of radioactive elements). Helium was discovered to be an element by Norman Lockyer and Edward Frankland of England. Helium makes up about 0.0005% of the earth’s atmosphere.
Sources of helium
Helium is recovered from natural gas deposits, where it accumulates over millions of years as a product of radiocative decay.
Some natural gas deposits have as much as 7% helium. Such deposits have been found in Texas, Russia, Poland, Algeria, China and Canada. Helium extracted from these natural gas reserves is the single source of helium.
It is believed the world helium resources – excluding those of the United States – totals 15.1 billion cubic meters. It is estimated that the United States has helium resources of 11.1 billion cubic meters.
Uses of helium
Because it is inert, liquefied helium has a number of applications. It is used in cryogenics to freeze biological materials for long-term storage and later use (24%). It is also used in welding and to create controlled atmospheres. It is used to detect leaks in pipes. Its inert nature makes helium useful for cooling nuclear power plants.
Its uses include inflating balloons, use as an inert shield for arc welding, pressurising liquid-fuelled rocket tanks, and in supersonic wind tunnels. Deep-sea divers breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen to avoid the problems caused by breathing ordinary air under high pressure. Mixtures of helium and oxygen have proven to be useful in treating people with severe asthma or lung problems. 45% of the worlds consumption of helium is for use in supercooled magnets. The liquid gas cools the wire in the magnets so that they have no electrical resistance and a current induced in the wire flows practically forever. These are used for Magnetic Resonance Imaging to scan the human body and for large-scale scientific research projects such as particle physics and nuclear fusion. .
Most people are certainly familiar with the use of helium as a lighter-than-air substance. It holds up our birthday balloons. The motorized blimps that hover over sports stadiums are held up by helium. Hydrogen would offer more lift but has the drawback of being inflammable.
Substitutes for helium
For super cold applications (particularly, at temperatures below –429 degrees F) there is no adequate substitute for helium. Another inert gas, argon, can be used in place of helium for some welding applications. Hydrogen can also be used in place of helium, but only in situations where the explosive nature of hydrogen will not be a problem. Hydrogen might be a good substitute for helium in some deep-sea diving situations. Hydrogen would offer more lift for balloons and airships but has the drawback of being inflammable. Science fiction writers like Iain M Banks have imagined "lifting spheres" enclosing a vacuum which would give even more buoyancy than hydrogen but do not say exactly how the sphere would maintain its shape against atmospheric pressure!