Sunday, August 16, 2015

Where have all the Heliums gone

I have come across a video of two gentlemen drinking a Helium-infused beer. I know just one guy who has the "alcoholistic quotient" and "geeky demeanor" combined to pull a stunt like this, who happens to be in Germany also.

Watch the video here:

Before you perform the same feat at home or show off a hilarious Mickey Mouse ingenuity in front of your pals, you may want to consider this:

Helium is so scarce on Earth and science badly need it. Today's proton colliders requires liquid Helium(because of its zero viscosity superfluid characteristics, meaning it will never come to rest or lose energy once in motion) to cool electromagnets. Perfect at a 4 Kelvin boiling point. 

So where do we mine Helium. 

Our exosphere contains five parts per million of Helium only, so we don't source it there. And besides, it won't stay in there forever. (We all know this in our school physics by calculating a fraction of the Boltzmann distribution that’s above escape velocity). The only way where we do it is to get it underground. The radioactive decay of heavy elements like Uranium, Thorium, Radium, and Radon, which has been there for billions of years(although it also took billion of years to decay)produces a first type of decay called "alpha decay" and the radioactive particles emit Helium nucleus. There are only 16 Helium mines in the world, and they are threatened to depletion, so let's make productive use of it before it runs dry. It will probably run short for the next 30-50 years, perhaps sooner. 

Helium is inert(is it a rootword for "introvert?") and non-recyclable. So you might want to ask: "Why has it become so scarce on Earth when it's the second most abundant element in the universe, Hydrogen being the first".

First, it has a very low molecular weight. Particles in a gas of uniform temperature roughly follow a particular probabilistic distribution of kinetic energies. A typical Helium atom has 1/7th the mass of a Nitrogen molecule, so Helium jostle about at roughly the square root of 7x the speed of Nitrogen. This is too fast for Earth to retain Helium over geologic time periods. 

Second of it being an anti-social element. It is a noble gas and does not bond chemically, unlike Hydrogen, to form compounds or heavier molecules.

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