What is Helium? (He)
Helium is the second element on the periodic table. It is a colourless an odourless gas yet it has a number of uses, some of which may surprise you! Helium gas is literally ‘lighter-than-air’ due to its extremely low density, which explains its most well-known use; decorative balloons.
Helium’s presence on earth was confirmed in 1895, however it was first discovered in 1868 when French astronomer, Pierre Janssen, witnessed an unknown gas during a solar eclipse. This is where the name ‘Helium’ originated, as it was named after the Greek God of the sun, Helios.
5 Uses of Helium
- Balloons: As already mentioned, the most common use for helium gas is for decorative balloons. However, this has since stretched to helium for weather balloons and airships. (Fun fact: hydrogen was originally used to fill balloons but it is a highly reactive gas.)
- Medical Applications: Helium gas can be used for respiratory ailments to treat conditions such as asthma and emphysema. Liquid helium also has medical purpose as it is used as a cooling medium for magnets and process use in MRI scanners and NMR spectrometers.
- Car/Vehicles: As helium is a very unreactive element, it is used to detect leaks in car air-conditioning systems. It is also used to inflate airbags as helium can diffuse quicker than most unreactive gases.
- Barcode Scanners: Supermarkets use helium for scanning barcodes at checkouts using helium-neon gas lasers. Helium can be used for lasers because even at high temperatures, the gas will not bond or react with other elements.
- Deep-Sea Diving: An artificial atmosphere is created using 20% oxygen and 80% helium to keep divers and others who work in pressurised conditions safe. The ability to consistently monitor this artificial atmosphere is something that Analox specialises in.
We already provide gas detection units for a number of these helium uses, however, Analox’s first helium focused sensor was produced for the diving industry.
Helium in Diving Gas
Air, a mix of approximately 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen, was initially used as diving gas however, nitrogen is generally a heavy gas and poses a number of risks to divers; a major risk being the ‘bends’. Helium is much safer to use as it is less soluble in the blood and reduces breathing resistance, deep-sea divers therefore use helium to dilute their oxygen.
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