What is the link between party balloons, space satellites, barcode scanners, and medical MRI scanners?
The answer is that they all use helium, the second most common element but rare to find on Earth.
With the daily use of helium increasing as more machines and technology require the substance, a shortage is bound to occur in the future. However, with the recent discovery of helium, we might not have to worry about its deficiency any time soon.
On June 28th, 2016, it was announced at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Yokohama, Japan that scientists found a large helium gas field in the Tanzania East African Rift Valley—54 billion cubic feet to be exact. That is enough helium to operate about 1.2 million medical MRI scanners. The United States has one of the highest number of MRI scanners in the world at over 11,000 machines across multiple hospitals around the nation. Putting this into perspective, the reservoir discovery should fulfill the global demand for about seven years.
This vital but precious element takes years to form as it comes from the ground rather than the atmosphere. Helium gas is created very slowly through radioactive decay of materials, such as uranium. It is contained in rocks and only escapes by the heat from volcanic activity. However, if not collected, the gas can escape into Earth’s atmosphere, deeming it to be useless and being the reason why the element is so rare.
Geologist Diveena Danabalan from Durham University in England and her colleagues were the ones who researched and discovered the helium gas field. Using information about Earth’s accumulation of helium, underground imaging of gas trapping formations, and other knowledge about the element, the group found five areas under Tanzania where helium gas exists.
Researchers predict to find more helium gas fields in the future, but the recent discovery of the 260 million gallons of the element should suffice the world’s needs for now.
Briggs, H. (2016, June 28). Helium discovery a ‘game-changer’ Retrieved July 16, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36651048Chapter Twenty-One Facts and Figures. (n.d.). Retrieved July 18, 2016, from http://www.magnetic-resonance.org/ch/21-01.htmlHuge helium discovery ‘a life-saving find’ (2016, June 27). Retrieved July 15, 2016, from http://phys.org/news/2016-06-huge-helium-discovery-life-saving.htmlSumner, T. (2016, July 13). Helium discovery blows away shortage worries. Retrieved July 15, 2016, from https://student.societyforscience.org/article/helium-discovery-blows-away-shortage-worries