Precious Resources

Strindberg and Helium
Did you ever stop to think that kid’s parties and carnivals are squandering one of our worlds most nonrenueable resources? That’s right, helium is only produced by nuclear decay deep in the Earth and once it is released into the atmosphere it is essentially lost to space. Did you know that until 1960 only the federal goverment was allowed to produce helium in the U.S.? And to this day the U.S. government runs a Fedral helium storage program. If you are in the market for helium then 2005 might be your year.

Here at CERN we will be using helium intensely in coming years as the superconducting magnets in the LHC, ATLAS, CMS, and other experiments are cooled down to a couple degrees above absolute zero with liquid helium, some which is superfluid. But don’t worry, the vast majority of that helium will be used in closed-loop systems which cool and condense the gas back into a liquid with a minimum of loss. The truth is, though, that I’m probably personally responsible for the loss of more helium than the average person. There’s all those 1000 liter muon chambers we filled and refilled with helium to track down leaks. There’s the
helium balloons that I personally filled and bled for during CERN open day last year. Plus, I have good friends that regularly crack open a bottle of liquid helium and let thermodynamics take it’s course.

So inert and yet so precious. Appreciate helium for it’s wonders and uses and never squander it, for if we do future generations will never know comedic genius such as Strindberg and Helium

(Some links found via the UW Physics 110 FAQ and Boing Boing.)

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