Global helium shortage could affect students, jobs

U.S. & World
Helium shortage could affect students, jobs

When you think about helium most people think about blowing up balloons.

Actually, there are hundreds of uses for the element.

With the global shortage of helium, it could start affecting jobs as well as research that supports our modern life.

Dr. Kevin Blair is the instrumentation manager for Western Michigan University.

He says helium is a non-renewable source that only the sun can make.

In recent years, before the shortage, he would pay roughly $200 for cylinder helium.

Now, depending on the grade of helium he could pay more than $20,000 for helium.

The element also provides doctors to be able to use lifesaving MRI scans to detect anything from torn ligaments to brain tumors.

He says this shortage is serious.

“If we want future students to compete at a high level in chemistry and biology we must figure something out quickly,” Blair said.

“We have had to alter some of the labs in our classes to make sure we can afford to keep the instruments running. We now use nitrogen gas in some of our instruments instead of helium it is not as good at separation but it is safe.” 

He said in some cases there may be some alternatives but for the mass spectrometer, he uses it’s helium or nothing.

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