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You have probably already seen Helium at work at a birthday party or other special occasions. That’s right. Helium is what makes those colourful balloons float. But did you know Helium is the second most abundant element in the entire universe? Or that this gas was discovered around the Sun before it was found on Earth?

Helium is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas.

Helium is so light that Earth’s gravity is not strong enough to hold on to it. When helium atoms are released into the atmosphere, they rise until they escape into space.

Since helium is lighter than air it is commonly used to fill airships, blimps and balloons. As it doesn’t burn or react with other chemicals, helium is relatively safe to use for this purpose.

Also due to it being less dense than normal air, when inhaled from a source such as a helium balloon it briefly changes the sound of a person’s voice, making it sound much higher. However, breathing in too much helium can be very dangerous, potentially choking people due to a lack of oxygen.

Helium has a lifting force of around one gram per litre. A balloon that holds 10 litres of helium should therefore lift an object weighing 10 grams. Unfortunately you’ll need around 5000 of these balloons if you weigh around 50kgs and want to get off the ground.

The balloon boy hoax from October 15, 2009 led people to believe that a six year old boy had floated away in a home-made helium balloon when in fact he was hiding at his house the whole time.

You may be surprised to learn all the uses of Helium.

Besides making party balloons, hot air balloons and blimps float, Helium is also used for the following purposes :

  • It pressurizes the fuel tanks of rockets
  • It is used in supersonic windmills
  • As a coolant in superconducting magnets for NMR spectrometers and MRI machines
  • Scuba tanks
  • Lasers

You might notice the helium balloon you got from the amusement park slowly falling to the ground after a few hours. This happens as the helium gradually leaks from the balloon.

To keep balloons floating for longer periods a special Hi-Float gel is inserted into the balloon prior to its inflation. This gel seals off the inside of the balloon and prevents the escape of helium.

Normal helium balloons would float for approx. 8 – 10 hours before they start falling to the ground. With Hi-Float treatment they could last up to a week or more.

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