MRI machine - Image created by AI

Helium gas is more precious and important than you think

March 2023
Most people think helium is just a cool gas used in party balloons and to talk in funny voices. For physicists and other scientists, helium is a precious and scarce element with invaluable qualities.

Helium is a cooling element in the advanced medical machines that conduct tests called MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging.

NASA’s rockets need helium to function properly. Also, helium is used to create smartphones and other digital devices.

NBC News writes:

"Liquid helium is liquid gold to a host of industries, according to Bill Halperin, a professor of physics at Northwestern University, who uses helium for low-temperature physics and to provide a liquid bath for superconducting magnets used for nuclear magnetic resonance.

‘Helium is a nonrenewable resource. NASA and SpaceX need helium for liquid fuel rockets,’ he said. ‘The MRI industry needs helium. The pharmaceutical industry is reliant on helium. And so is the Department of Defense.’

Halperin notes that the Defense Department uses helium not only for missiles, but also for surveillance balloons. "

so what?
Access to helium is essential to make today’s technology work. It’s also a key element to develop the so-called quantum computers needed to solve the most complex problems of tomorrow.

Reference shelf:
The fate of America’s largest supply of helium is up in the air (NBC News)

Helium isn’t just for balloons. It’s a valuable technology resource (Washington Post)

13 Risks That Come With The Growing Power Of Quantum Computing (Forbes)

More by WONKedition:
Ammonia is the modern world’s ‘most important material’

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