We hear about animals and plants becoming extinct.

We even hear that humans are likely to become extinct, but helium?

Apparently, the world is running out of helium.

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Helium shortage prompts scientist’s balloon use warning

With helium in short supply, there are calls for its use in balloons to end

It is something guaranteed to catch the eye of most young children on a day out – a huge bunch of floating, brightly-coloured helium balloons for sale.

And for many people, a vital element in arranging a party is sitting down with a cylinder of helium to fill dozens of balloons with the lighter-than-air gas.

But according to one academic, such occasions may soon be a thing of the past.

Tom Welton, a professor of sustainable chemistry at Imperial College, London, believes that a global shortage of helium means it should be used more carefully.

Helium cools the large magnets inside MRI scanners – the medical devices that provide doctors with detailed images of what is happening inside their patients’ bodies.

Prof Welton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re not going to run out of helium tomorrow – but on the 30 to 50 year timescale we will have serious problems of having to shut things down if we don’t do something in the mean time.”

He added: “The reason that we can do MRI is we have very large, very cold magnets – and the reason we can have those is we have helium cooling them down.

“You’re not going into an MRI scanner because you’ve got a sore toe – this is important stuff.

“When you see that we’re literally just letting it float into the air, and then out into space inside those helium balloons, it’s just hugely frustrating. It is absolutely the wrong use of helium.”

Helium is extracted from deep underground, where deposits of the gas have built up.

It is usually mined as a by-product of natural gas extraction. But resources are finite and demand is increasing, which is why supplies are restricted.

 

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