We're running out of Helium, an inert gas which is essential for research and medicine because we've squandered it on party balloons. To add insult to injury, Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe -- there just isn't that much on Earth.
"Helium is particularly important for running super-conducting magnets. These have to be cooled to -270C to operate, and liquid helium does that perfectly. These magnets are now widespread and found in machines that range from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva to MRI scanners in hospitals," said Professor Jim Wild, of Sheffield University. "Without helium, none of these machines would work. Unfortunately that threatens to be a real prospect in the near future."
Earth only has a limited supply of helium, which is released as a by-product of the petrochemical industry. Essentially, pockets of the gas are disturbed during gas and oil drilling and rise to the surface. In the 1920s the US decided helium would be a strategic resource. It realised that air power would be crucial in future wars, and assumed that these would be fought by airships that would use helium to float. "The US created a vast stockpile of billions of litres of helium in the 1920s and kept it until the late 1990s, when it decided to sell it off," said Jonathan Flint, the CEO of Oxford Instruments, whose scanners and other devices use helium for cooling.
For the past decade that vast stockpile has been sold off, causing prices to plummet. "Helium was cheap and we learned to be wasteful with it," said Kirichek. "Now the stockpile is used up, prices are rising and we are realising how stupid we have been."
|A History of the Sky: a Year-Long Time-Lapse Study of the Sky|
|The Only Roadblock to a Head Transplant Is Ethics, Not Science|
|Super-slow-motion pictures show soap bubble bursting in stunning detail|
|Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror|
|The Illusion of Being Observed Can Make Us a Better Person|
|"Boxed-meal companies grapple each other for control of the American dinner plate."|
|"It would be quite dangerous for humanity to communicate with a civilization we don’t know anything about."|
|Generating Electricity from Human Movement to Power Smart Gadgets|
|The Future of the Pneumatic Will be Airless|
|Listening to Music as it Travels Away from Earth|
|"Do teenagers understand the outdated tech in our icons?"|
|"Can an educated wannabe bottom-feeder like myself build an electric car capable of a 600 mile round trip using recycled dead laptop batteries?"|
|The Language With Only 123 Words|
|"In many ways, modern cars are computer networks on wheels. "|
|"Murchison is already arguably the most happening radio astronomy site in Australia."|
|How the Electric Car is Going to Take Over the World|
|Netflix Still Makes Money from DVDs|
|Edge of Stability|
|"Google's Dave Vos foresees a day when thousands of drones will routinely ply the skies above cities."|
|Car Chase Montage|