2, 1
-272.2 °C, -457.96°F, 0.95 K
−268.928 °C, −452.07°F, 4.222 K
Sir William Ramsay in London, and independently by Per Teodor Cleve and Nils Abraham Langlet in Uppsala, Sweden
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Uses and Properties

Image Explanation

A balloon filled with helium is a common sight at parties, events, and celebrations. Helium is a lighter-than-air gas, and when it is used to fill a balloon, it provides buoyancy, causing the balloon to rise in the air.


Hellium is colourless, odourless gas that is totally unreactive.


Floating Higher: Exploring the Remarkable Uses of Helium

When you think of helium, the first image that might pop into your mind is a colorful balloon bobbing effortlessly in the air at a birthday party. While this light and non-toxic gas is indeed famous for its role in filling balloons and making them float, helium boasts a plethora of other fascinating uses that extend far beyond the world of celebration. In this article, we will delve into the extraordinary and diverse applications of helium, ranging from scientific research to healthcare and beyond.

1. Scientific Discoveries

Helium, an inert and noble gas, plays a pivotal role in various scientific fields. Perhaps one of its most famous uses is in cryogenics. Liquid helium, at incredibly low temperatures, is essential for cooling down superconducting materials, which in turn enable the development of powerful and efficient magnets for use in medical imaging devices like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. These machines provide invaluable insights into the human body, aiding in the diagnosis and treatment of numerous medical conditions.

Additionally, helium is used in the field of astronomy to cool down infrared detectors and instruments on telescopes. This cooling process allows scientists to capture clearer and more detailed images of celestial objects, unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

2. Welding and Leak Detection

In the industrial sector, helium is a vital component in welding. When mixed with argon, helium enhances the heat generated during the welding process, making it suitable for welding materials like aluminum and stainless steel. The use of helium in welding ensures clean, strong, and precise welds, which are essential in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, and construction.

Moreover, helium's low density and small molecular size make it ideal for leak detection. Helium leak tests are conducted to identify and locate minuscule leaks in a variety of equipment, including pipelines, air conditioning systems, and refrigeration units. This application plays a crucial role in preventing the release of harmful gases and the loss of valuable resources.

3. Deep-Sea Diving

Helium's unique properties also find utility in deep-sea diving. A mixture of helium and oxygen, known as heliox, is used in diving to mitigate the adverse effects of high-pressure environments. Heliox reduces the risk of decompression sickness, also known as "the bends," which can occur when divers ascend too quickly. By using heliox, deep-sea explorers can extend their time underwater, conduct research, and perform critical underwater maintenance and repairs.

4. Space Exploration

Helium is an invaluable resource in the realm of space exploration. The fuel that propels rockets and spacecraft relies on liquid hydrogen as a propellant, which needs to be stored at extremely low temperatures. Liquid helium is essential for maintaining these temperatures, enabling the reliable launch and operation of space vehicles.

Furthermore, helium is used in satellite technology for maintaining proper temperatures within various components. Satellites often operate in the vacuum of space where temperatures can fluctuate dramatically. Helium helps to regulate these temperature variations, ensuring the satellite's proper functioning.

5. Medical Applications

In the medical field, helium exhibits a unique and vital role. Known for its ability to change the pitch of the human voice, helium-oxygen mixtures, or "heliox," are used as a treatment for severe respiratory conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and croup in children. The helium in heliox makes breathing easier by reducing airway resistance, particularly in cases of severe respiratory distress. This life-saving application helps patients breathe more comfortably during critical moments.

6. Airships and Blimps

Historically, helium was a key component in the construction of airships and blimps, offering a safer alternative to hydrogen, which is highly flammable. While helium airships are less common today, they still have niche applications in advertising, surveillance, and tourism. Helium-filled blimps are often used for aerial advertising at sporting events and for capturing breathtaking aerial footage.

7. Scientific Research

Helium is not only an essential tool in scientific experiments but also a subject of study itself. Researchers use helium to study fundamental physics concepts, like superfluidity. In a superfluid state, helium can flow without any friction, even at temperatures close to absolute zero. This unique property has led to various experiments, expanding our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature.

8. Computer Chip Manufacturing

In the realm of technology, helium is used in the manufacturing of computer chips. The gas is essential for its cooling properties during the production of semiconductors, helping to prevent overheating and ensuring the precise formation of microcircuits on silicon wafers. This application enables the creation of smaller and more powerful computer components.


In summary, helium, often associated with festive occasions and colorful balloons, is a versatile gas with a wide array of practical and scientific applications. Its unique properties make it indispensable in fields ranging from scientific research to medical treatments, industrial applications, and space exploration. As we continue to uncover new uses for this remarkable gas, it remains a vital resource that touches almost every aspect of our lives, often in ways we might not even realize. So the next time you see a helium-filled balloon soaring into the sky, remember that its potential reaches far beyond the world of celebrations, making our lives safer, healthier, and more technologically advanced.

See next element of Noble Gas Family: Neon.


Helium, the second most abundant element in the universe, may be best known for inflating balloons and altering the pitch of our voices, but its history is far more profound and diverse than its whimsical uses suggest. This remarkable gas has played a vital role in scientific discoveries, space exploration, and medical advancements. Join us on a journey through time as we unravel the captivating history of helium.

The Discovery of Helium

Helium's story begins in the 19th century with a celestial connection. In 1868, French astronomer Pierre Janssen observed a solar eclipse from India and noted a yellow spectral line, which he believed was caused by a new element on the Sun. Independently, English astronomer Norman Lockyer made a similar observation and suggested the name "helium" after "Helios," the Greek god of the Sun.

However, it took nearly three decades for helium to be discovered on Earth. In 1895, Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay and English chemist Lord Rayleigh isolated helium gas from a sample of uranium ore. They recognized that helium was an entirely new element with remarkable properties. Its name was derived from "helios," reflecting its origin from the Sun.

The Helium Rush

After its discovery, helium remained largely a laboratory curiosity until the early 20th century. It wasn't until World War I that helium began to play a pivotal role in military and industrial applications. Due to its non-flammable nature, helium replaced hydrogen as the preferred gas for filling military observation balloons, reducing the risk of explosions.

The demand for helium skyrocketed during World War I, leading to what became known as the "helium rush." The United States, in particular, established the National Helium Reserve in Texas in 1925, ensuring a steady supply of this vital gas.

Lighter-Than-Air Travel

One of the most iconic uses of helium has been in the field of aviation, specifically in airships, or dirigibles. In the 1920s and 1930s, helium-filled airships, like the USS Shenandoah and the Graf Zeppelin, offered a safer and more efficient mode of long-distance travel compared to their hydrogen-filled counterparts.

The infamous Hindenburg disaster in 1937, in which a hydrogen-filled airship burst into flames, marked the end of the hydrogen era in air travel. From then on, helium became the standard lifting gas for airships. These grand vessels, often seen floating majestically across the sky, were powered by engines and offered luxurious accommodations to passengers.

The Space Age and Helium

Helium's importance extended beyond the Earth's atmosphere and into the cosmos. Liquid helium, which exists at extremely low temperatures, played a critical role in cooling and stabilizing various components of spacecraft and telescopes. This was especially important in space exploration during the mid-20th century when the United States and the Soviet Union were racing to conquer space.

One of the most significant missions involving helium was the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. Helium was used to cool the telescope's instruments, allowing it to capture stunning images of distant galaxies and expanding our understanding of the universe.

Medical and Scientific Advancements

In addition to its use in aviation and space, helium has made significant contributions to the field of medicine and scientific research. Liquid helium's extremely low temperatures are essential for cryogenic applications, including the cooling of superconducting magnets in medical MRI machines and particle accelerators.

Helium is also used in the study of superfluidity, a phenomenon where a liquid flows without viscosity. This unique property has led to groundbreaking discoveries in the field of quantum mechanics and our understanding of fundamental physics.


From its discovery as a mysterious spectral line on the Sun to its role in making air travel safer, advancing space exploration, and facilitating medical and scientific research, helium has a rich and diverse history. It has been a constant companion in our quest for knowledge, adventure, and innovation.

As we continue to explore the frontiers of science and technology, helium remains an invaluable resource. However, with the growing demand for helium in various industries, it's crucial to balance its use with responsible conservation efforts. The history of helium serves as a reminder of the incredible potential and importance of even the lightest elements in our universe.

Atomic Data

Atomic Radiues, Non-bonded (A): 1.400
Electron Affinity (kJ mol-1): Not stable
Covalent Radiues (A): 0.37
Electronegativity (Pauling Scale): Unknown
Ionisation Energies (kJ mol-1) 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th
2372.322 5250.516 - - - - - -

Oxidation States and Isotopes

Common oxidation states
Isotope Atomic Mass Natural Abundance Half Life Mode of Decay
0.000134 - -
4He 4.003 99.9999 - -

Supply Risk

Relative Supply Risk: 6.5
Crustal Abundance (ppm): 0.008
Recycle Rate (%): Unknown
Production Conc.(%) : 22.2
Top 3 Producers:
1) USA
2) Algeria
3) Russia
Top 3 Reserve Holders:

  • 1) USA

  • 2) Qatar

  • 3) Algeria

Substitutability: Unknown
Political Stability of Top Producer: 56.6
Political Stability of Top Reserve Holder: 56.6

Pressure and Temperature Data

Specific Heat Capacity: 5193
Shear Modulus: Unknown
Young Modulus: Unknown
Bulk Modulus: Unknown
Pressure 400k Pressure 600k Pressure 800k Pressure 1000k Pressure 1200k Pressure 1400k Pressure 1600k Pressure 1800k Pressure 2000k Pressure 2200k Pressure 2400k
- - - - - - - - - - Unknown


Transcript :

Helium is a noble gas that occurs in nature. It has an atomic weight of 4.002602. It has a stable electron shell structure and low melting point. Helium has a very low reactivity compared to other noble gases. I know that it sounds rare but we know that Helium can combine with tungsten to form molecular compounds but even it can also form excimers with fluorine and iodine.

I am Brian Wilkinson. Today, we have with us Doctor James Miller who will talk about this noble gas element.

Several scientists were credited with the formal discovery of Helium. French astronomer Julius Cesar Janssen discovered it in 1868. He spotted an unusual yellow line during a solar eclipse. He thought the line was for sodium, but was soon corrected. The line was actually for helium.

Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay later isolated Helium from cleveite, a mineral that was used to make uranium. He analyzed the spectral lines of various elements and he found that the D3 absorption line was similar to the one that appeared when the cleveite was treated with sulfuric acid.

As part of its war effort, the US Naval funded three tiny prototype helium factories throughout the First World War. They were designed to supply barrage balloons with non-flammable gas. It was considered a cutting-edge weapon of war. The military also experimented with airships.

Franck and Hertz adopted a different experimental method. They used a technique developed by Philipp Lenard. Electrometers are employed by this method for the purpose of identifying inelastic interactions that take place involving atoms as well as electrons in a gas. When a positive ion collides with the atom, the electrometer will increase. When the ion collides with the collecting electrode, it will emit photoelectrons.

After that, Franck and Hertz made an attempt to determine the amount of energy necessary to ionize helium. They had hoped to use their measurements to verify the theory of the Bohr-Sommerfeld model of the hydrogen atom. The results were confusing. They were akin to excitation of the lowest doublet state, but the reading on the electrometer showed that the ionization potential was only about 20.5 Volts.

Helium is the first element of the group of noble gases. It is rare on earth and it is formed during nuclear reactions triggered by cosmic radiations. This element is formed from nuclear fusion of hydrogen by the CNO cycle. In terms of fact, the quantity of helium present in the atmospheric is about equivalent to one part in 200,000. Nuclear fusing of hydrogen results in the creation of helium. It is also formed naturally through radioactive decay of heavier elements. Helium is found in small amounts in meteoric iron, mineral springs, and radioactive minerals. In the United States, the largest natural accumulations of helium are found in natural gas deposits. It is also possible to extract it from natural gas resources. In a tiny amount but, it is a component of the air that we breathe. Helium may also be discovered deep inside the ground, and vast amounts of it can be gathered.

Doctor Miller, can you tell us about the properties of helium?

Among the periodic table elements, Helium has a unique set of properties. This element is inert, odorless, and non-toxic. It is also considered as the lightest of the noble gases. It has an extremely low point at which it melts and boils. It is also present in a number of lasers and may be detected in natural gases. The atom of helium is smaller than any other element different from hydrogen. It has a complete outer shell because it contains two electrons which are tightly bound to the nucleus. These properties make it the least reactive of the noble gases.

Its thermal conductivity is five to six times that of other gases. This property is important in the heat-treatment phase of fabrication. In addition, the density of liquid helium is only about one-seventh that of air. It has the lowest density of any of the so-called stationary gasses. It can be liquefied by putting more pressure on it. Hence, Helium is the coolest substance in low-temperature physics. It has very weak interatomic interactions and its ionization potential is higher than all other elements.

Doctor Miller, I am hugely intrigued to know where Helium is used for.

Several applications of helium include heat treatment, laser welding, fiber-optics, vacuum breaking, nuclear fusion research, and deep-sea breathing systems. Liquid helium is also employed in NMR spectrometers cause it is an ideal coolant for superconducting magnets. It can be supplied in small insulated containers or large ISO containers, which can hold up to 11,000 liters of liquified helium. Some of its major uses include medical cryogenics. Its use is also crucial for the maintenance of nuclear power plants. Helium is used in the growth of silicon crystals and additionally, zirconium and titanium are both manufactured using this element.

It is used as a refrigerant in laboratories, for example, it is used as a gas carrier in gas chromatography.

During World War II, the United States Navy used helium-filled patrol blimps to protect ships from enemy submarines. These blimps were equipped with sensitive listening devices. They could detect submarines up to five miles away. Throughout the Manhattan Projects, helium was an integral part to the development of an explosive device.


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Tables of Physical & Chemical Constants, Kaye & Laby Online, 16th edition, 1995. Version 1.0 (2005), accessed December 2014.
. J. S. Coursey, D. J. Schwab, J. J. Tsai, and R. A. Dragoset, Atomic Weights and Isotopic Compositions (version 4.1), 2015, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, accessed November 2016.
. T. L. Cottrell, The Strengths of Chemical Bonds, Butterworth, London, 1954.

. John Emsley, Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Oxford University Press, New York, 2nd Edition, 2011.