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Nik of Sente Software going Up in the world
Helium gas is much lighter than air, and has the advantage over hydrogen in that it isn't inflammable at all! If there were a book about Helium Chemistry it would be a very thin volume as helium forms no compounds and doesn't react with any other elements. It's an inert monatomic gas. So it has physics, but no chemistry!
Helium becomes liquid at about 4 Kelvin (minus 269 Celsius). Solid helium exists at even lower temperatures but not at atmospheric pressure. It has to be twenty atmospheres to be solid.
Helium gas is used for balloons, blimps, airships, and for breathing in to make a squeaky voice. (this practice, of breathing helium so as to increase the *pitch of your voice so you sound like it's been sampled and increased in speed/pitch* is always advised against because of the risk of asphyxiation! However, if you were going to do the trick you'd have to do it with some friends present to show off to, so it would not be as dangerous as the "safe" lobby would suggest). It's also possible to safely breathe Heliox, a diving-gas mixture of helium and oxygen, which saves divers from the horrors of The Bends but has a curious side-effect of the alteration of the vocals. Also, helium conducts heat much better than the more usual Nitrogen in air. Therefore divers using heliox have to have their cylinders warmed up to avoid hypothermia.
Liquid Helium can be used for a variety of cryogenic purposes. It's quite expensive but at that temperature (within four degrees of absolute zero) it's quite useful. Helium3 is a superfluid and behaves in some very odd ways!
"Helium" is named after Helios, (the Sun) as the element was first found in the Sun (This was done without having to overcome the technical difficulties of landing on the Sun, as the helium was detected by means of lines in the spectrum, indicating the presence of the element).
Stars shine by hydrogen fusion, producing helium, and then helium fusion, producing heavier elements.
Here's a set of helium-related links:
Nik Allday's BLIMP story
The original paper on the discovery of Helium3
How Stuff Works; Helium Balloons
Also see: Airships
Lost camera and helium balloons - REWARD for recovery of movie data!
"We sell helium balloon gifts with guaranteed UK next day delivery and free chocolates. We have hundreds of balloon shapes, and new designs are added weekly".
For various reasons, it is questionable that Helium should be included in the list of things that are not cement
Another thing about Helium is that on Earth it is becoming scarce, like oil. That's because it is generated inside the planet by radioactive decay, and then it gets to the surface in the same sorts of places oil and natural gas appear. As oil runs out (see alternative fuels), the gas which is currently being put in balloons, will run out.
* Pitch of your voice? Oddly, helium doesn't actually increase the pitch. It alters the harmonics, which make your voice sound higher pitch. You can tell this by singing a note with and without helium, and it is the same note.
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