Sunday, November 05, 2006

Two In One Day

Oh man! I say in a whine. I had just written the below post when all of a sudden I spot this. Two great stories in one day.

The gyst of the story is this... Helium is mined from just a small handful of pockets trapped under ground. Despite our fascination with frittering it away in party decorations and the most transient of childrens toys, helium is in fact a depleting resource. It is so rare and expensive in other parts of the world that in scientific research or medical diagnostics it's cheaper to bring the patient or sample to the US then it is to carry out facilities in Europe or Asia. There is no NMR Spectroscopy in Europe, at least not the way it is here. In research we use it to super cool certain items, an NMR magnet, a radio reciever for astronomy or microwave communications (it improves signal to noise ratios for very faint signals).

Why is helium so rare? It's so light and bouyant in the Earths atmosphere that it will eventually float off into space. Once it gets released into the air it's effectively gone. Trapped helium in deep helium wells are the only source.

Enjoy your balloons while you can. Eventually they'll be nothing more then a memory. OK maybe we'll use hydrogen. Damn won't that be fun.

Personally I think the way the scientific community deals with the depletion of the helium stock will be a pretty good meter for how the rest of the world will deal with 'Peak Oil'.


Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

I admit this was complete news to me. I had no idea - I don't think I've ever run across anything that mentioned this.

You're probably right about the situation being a dry run for peak oil and how we deal with the loss of an important resource.

BTW, Bob Park of the U of Maryland, who is mentioned in the article, does an excellent column every Friday on science and psuedo-science issues...

Nov 6, 2006, 4:02:00 PM  
Blogger Dean ASC said...


Nov 6, 2006, 7:15:00 PM  
Blogger Dean ASC said...

I actually knew about this when I first started to study NMR Spectroscopy at Salem State. We would go through about 3 tanks of helium and between 6 and 8 tanks of nitrogen to slow the loss of helium. (I mean the big rolling ones not those bottles) I knew they would eventually run out.

Nov 6, 2006, 7:18:00 PM  
Blogger RicketyFunk said...

I can't wait till there's a clip on AFV of a bunch of H baloons going off when Grandma goes to blow out the candles on her cake.

What I wan't to ask, for reals, is, "Isn't there a way to create more Helium? Or would it be like making tiles out of rubber tires? Sure you're recycling, but the new tiles at the Home despot cost three times less."

Nov 9, 2006, 12:45:00 AM  
Blogger Dean ASC said...

The only way to make more helium is either to wait for radioactive decay (which is where most of the helium we have came from over billions of years) or through fusion which requires so much energy that it wouldn't be worth it. Helium is the noblest of noble gasses. It's so unreactive that it doesn't even have a freezing point. It's not like acetyline that we can get by dropping a rock into water. There's nothing that it combines with that we can strip it off of.

Nov 10, 2006, 12:58:00 PM  

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