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."
|"If things work out, 10 years from now we should see some farms making petrochemical replacements."|
|Aaah! Real Monsters: The Science Behind the Legends|
|Coldest, Driest, Calmest Place on Earth Found|
|"If an astronaut cries in space, do their tears fall?"|
|"Creating an HIV vaccine is like trying to fire a gun at millions of shielded, moving targets that can eat your bullets." Why We Have No Cure for AIDS|
|True Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything|
|Turn a Smartphone into a Laptop for $99|
|7-11 Delivers Slurpees by Drone|
|"Welcome to the age of entanglement."|
|Documentary on the World's Largest Model Railroad|
|Get Paid to Pick Up Someone Else's Shit|
|Going to Mars the Fiscally Responsible Way|
|"The simple act of walking past a police officer becomes a law enforcement interaction."|
|All the #DongleJokes You Can Fit in a Minute and a Half|
|Introducing Our First Twitter Bot (Sort of): Miss Fortune at @bottune|
|"The way future generations will make food is through synthetics."|
|Das Berliner Buchstabenmuseum|