Helium is a fascinating element that holds many intriguing properties and uses. This article will explore some interesting facts about helium, shedding light on its unique characteristics and applications.
From being the second most abundant element in the universe to its ability to make voices sound high-pitched, helium has captivated scientists and the general public alike.
So, let’s dive into the world of helium and uncover some captivating facts about this remarkable element.
Interesting Facts About Helium
The second most abundant element in the universe
Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen. It is found in stars and makes up about 24% of the universe’s elemental mass.
Discovered on the Sun before it was found on Earth
Helium was first discovered in the spectrum of the Sun in 1868 by French astronomer Pierre Janssen. It was later found on Earth in 1895 by Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay.
Named after the Greek god of the Sun
The name “helium” comes from the Greek word “helios,” which means Sun. It was named after the Greek god of the Sun, Helios.
Does not freeze even at extremely low temperatures
Helium remains a gas even at temperatures close to absolute zero (-273.15°C or -459.67°F). It does not freeze and remains in its gaseous state.
Used to cool superconducting magnets in MRI machines
Helium is used to cool the superconducting magnets in MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines. It helps maintain the low temperatures required for the magnets to function properly.
Causes voices to sound high-pitched
Inhaling helium temporarily changes the sound of a person’s voice, making it high-pitched. This is because helium is less dense than air, causing sound waves to travel faster.
Used in airships and balloons for buoyancy
Helium is lighter than air, which makes it ideal for filling airships and balloons. It provides buoyancy and allows them to float in the atmosphere.
Can be used as a coolant in nuclear reactors
Helium is used as a coolant in some nuclear reactors. Its low boiling point and inert nature make it suitable for transferring heat away from the reactor core.
Forms a liquid at extremely low temperatures
When subjected to very low temperatures and high pressures, helium can condense into a liquid state. It becomes a superfluid with unique properties, such as zero viscosity.
Used in deep-sea diving to prevent nitrogen narcosis
Helium is used in deep-sea diving gas mixtures to prevent nitrogen narcosis, a condition that can occur at great depths. Helium is less narcotic than nitrogen.
Cannot be synthesized by chemical reactions
Helium is a noble gas and cannot be synthesized by chemical reactions. It is only produced through the natural radioactive decay of elements like uranium and thorium.
Used in cryogenics to achieve extremely low temperatures
Helium is commonly used in cryogenics to achieve extremely low temperatures. It is used to cool materials and equipment, such as superconducting magnets and particle accelerators.
Has the lowest boiling point of all elements
Helium has the lowest boiling point of all elements, at -268.93°C (-452.07°F). This makes it useful for applications that require very low temperatures.
Used in the production of computer chips
Helium is used in the production of computer chips to create a controlled environment. It helps prevent contamination and ensures the chips are manufactured with high precision.
Can escape Earth’s atmosphere due to its low mass
Helium atoms have low mass and high velocity, which allows them to escape Earth’s atmosphere. This is why helium is relatively scarce on our planet.
Used in gas chromatography for separating and analyzing compounds
Helium is commonly used as a carrier gas in gas chromatography. It helps separate and analyze compounds based on their different affinities for the stationary phase.
Used in the study of superfluidity and quantum mechanics
Helium is extensively used in the study of superfluidity and quantum mechanics. Its unique properties at low temperatures provide valuable insights into these fields of research.
Can cause a person’s voice to become inaudible in certain conditions
At extremely low temperatures, helium can cause a person’s voice to become inaudible. This is due to the changes in the speed of sound waves in the helium gas.
Used in the production of airbags for automotive safety
Helium is used in the production of airbags for automotive safety. It is used to test the airbag’s inflation system and ensure its proper functioning.
Can be used as a shielding gas in welding
Helium is often used as a shielding gas in welding processes. It helps protect the weld area from atmospheric contamination and ensures a clean and strong weld.
One of the most well-known uses of helium is for inflating balloons. Helium is lighter than air, which allows balloons to float when filled with this gas. It is commonly used in party balloons, parade floats, and other decorative items.
Helium-filled balloons are popular for celebrations and events due to their ability to create a festive atmosphere.
Helium is widely used in cryogenics, the science of extremely low temperatures. It is used as a coolant in various applications, such as superconducting magnets in MRI machines, particle accelerators, and nuclear reactors.
Helium’s low boiling point of -268.93°C (-452°F) makes it ideal for maintaining extremely cold temperatures required for these technologies.
Helium is often used as a shielding gas in welding processes. When combined with other gases, such as argon, it creates an inert atmosphere that protects the weld area from atmospheric contamination.
This helps to produce high-quality welds with improved strength and durability. Helium’s high thermal conductivity also aids in heat transfer during welding.
Due to its low density and inertness, helium is commonly used in leak detection systems. It is introduced into a system or container, and if there is a leak, the helium will escape and can be detected using specialized equipment.
This method is particularly effective for finding leaks in pipelines, refrigeration systems, and vacuum chambers.
Helium has various medical applications, including its use in respiratory therapies. It is mixed with oxygen to create heliox, a breathing gas that helps improve airflow in patients with respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Helium is also used in cryosurgery, where extremely cold temperatures are applied to treat certain skin conditions or remove abnormal tissue.
Helium plays a crucial role in scientific research, particularly in fields such as physics and chemistry. It is used in experiments involving superconductivity, cryogenics, and low-temperature physics.
Helium is also used as a carrier gas in gas chromatography, a technique used to separate and analyze chemical compounds. Its inertness and low boiling point make it an ideal choice for these applications.
Helium is used in deep-sea diving to prevent the occurrence of nitrogen narcosis, also known as “raptures of the deep.”
When diving at great depths, the increased pressure can cause nitrogen to dissolve in the bloodstream, leading to symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication. By replacing nitrogen with helium in breathing mixtures, divers can avoid this potentially dangerous condition and safely explore the depths of the ocean.
Chemistry of Helium
Helium, the second lightest element in the periodic table, was first discovered in 1868 by French astronomer Pierre Janssen during a solar eclipse. Janssen noticed a yellow line in the spectrum of the sun, which he attributed to an unknown element.
Independently, British astronomer Norman Lockyer made a similar observation and named the element “helium” after the Greek word “helios,” meaning sun.
It wasn’t until 1895 that helium was first isolated on Earth by Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay and English chemist Lord Rayleigh.
In the early 20th century, helium was primarily used for filling airships due to its low density and non-flammable nature.
However, the infamous Hindenburg disaster in 1937, where a hydrogen-filled airship caught fire and crashed, led to a decline in the use of helium for this purpose. Since then, helium has found various applications in industries such as cryogenics, welding, and as a coolant in nuclear reactors.
Helium is a noble gas, belonging to Group 18 of the periodic table. It has an atomic number of 2 and an atomic mass of 4.0026 atomic mass units. Being an inert gas, helium has a full outer electron shell, making it highly stable and unreactive.
This lack of reactivity is due to its electronic configuration, with two electrons occupying the 1s orbital. Helium is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and exists as a gas at standard temperature and pressure.
One of the most remarkable properties of helium is its extremely low boiling point, which is just a few degrees above absolute zero (-268.93°C or -452.07°F).
This makes helium an excellent coolant for superconducting magnets used in MRI machines and particle accelerators.
Additionally, helium has the lowest melting point of any element, at -272.2°C (-457.96°F). It is also the only element that cannot be solidified by lowering the temperature alone, requiring high pressure as well.
Apart from its use in cryogenics, helium has several other important applications. It is commonly used in gas chromatography as a carrier gas due to its low reactivity and high thermal conductivity.
Helium is also used in deep-sea diving to dilute the oxygen content of breathing gases, reducing the risk of decompression sickness.
Furthermore, helium is utilized in the production of semiconductors, fiber optics, and as a shielding gas in arc welding to prevent oxidation of the metal being welded.
Interesting Physical Properties of Helium
1. Low Density
Helium is the second lightest element in the periodic table, after hydrogen. It has a very low density, which means that it is lighter than air. This property allows helium to be used in various applications, such as filling balloons and airships, as it provides buoyancy without adding significant weight.
2. Low Boiling Point
Helium has an extremely low boiling point of -268.93 degrees Celsius (-452 degrees Fahrenheit), which is just a few degrees above absolute zero. This makes it one of the coldest substances on Earth.
Due to its low boiling point, helium is commonly used as a coolant in various scientific and medical applications, such as in cryogenics and MRI machines.
Unlike many other gases, helium is non-flammable. It does not burn or support combustion, making it a safe choice for various applications. This property is particularly important when using helium in environments where fire hazards are a concern, such as in laboratories or industrial settings.
4. High Thermal Conductivity
Helium has excellent thermal conductivity, meaning it can transfer heat efficiently. This property makes it useful in cooling applications, such as in nuclear reactors and superconducting magnets. Helium’s high thermal conductivity allows it to effectively remove excess heat and maintain stable operating temperatures.
At extremely low temperatures, helium can exhibit a unique property called superfluidity. Superfluid helium flows without any friction or viscosity, allowing it to climb up the walls of containers and escape through the tiniest openings.
This phenomenon has fascinated scientists and has been extensively studied for its unusual behavior and potential applications in various fields of research.