The second most abundant element in the world, the atomic number and weight of helium are 2 and 4.002 respectively. It is a non-toxic inert gas that doesn't have a color, taste, or odor. The name of the gas helium is derived from a Greek word, helios which is used to denote the Sun. Helium is inert, which means it is unable to react with other elements. However, breakdown of radioactive elements present in some minerals produces this gas. Let us have a look at some common uses of helium.
Uses of Helium
- This element is used in cryogenics. The science of cryogenics (behavioral study of elements at very low temperatures) utilizes the maximum portion of helium that is being produced commercially. Out of the total helium production, around 25% is used in cryogenics.
- In the process of arc welding, helium gas is used to create a protective atmosphere. It is used for similar purposes in the production of silicon, germanium, zirconium, and titanium.
- Superconduction magnets, the electromagnets that are made from superconducting wires, need cooling during their operation. Helium is used to cool these magnets.
- Applications of helium can also be found in nuclear medicine. The liquid helium uses and applications can also be found in medical instrumentation.
- Chronic and acute forms of respiratory diseases can be treated with the help of this gas. For such treatments, a mixture of helium and oxygen is used. The advantage of using helium mixed with oxygen is that the mixture travels to lungs at a low pressure.
- The MRI scanning technology makes use of this gas in its liquid form. The low boiling point of helium (-269°C) allows its use in the process of cooling down the MRI magnets.
- Another medical application of helium can be found in the process of observing breathing. It is helpful in the treatment of various diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and asthma, where lungs are obstructed due to scarring, inflammation, mucous build-up, etc.
- A mixture of helium and oxygen is used by divers. The mixture helps in creating an artificial atmosphere and the divers can survive under a high pressure condition. Caisson workers too make use of helium.
- We know that hydrogen is commonly used to fill air balloons. However, using helium can be much safer for this purpose. It can also be used as a fuel in light-weight aircraft.
- An interesting application of helium can be seen in changing human voice. Even a small amount of helium gas alters human voice to some extent.
- It is believed that the most amount of helium which is found in the universe is of the Helium-4. It is said to have formed during the Big Bang.
- Helium, which is second in terms of abundance, is also the second lightest element after hydrogen.
- Helium was first observed in the bright yellow line of Sun's chromosphere on 18th August, 1868.
- Since this element has valency zero, it doesn't react with other elements in its vicinity. Hence, it is also known as inert or non-reactive.