September 19, 2019

The Oncoming Helium Crisis

“Liquid helium is a quiet engine of American research and business. It is essential to a broad range of technologies, from cutting-edge quantum computing to M.R.I. scanners in hospitals. It has fostered the development of billion-dollar industries, fueled essential lifesaving medical tools, supported work leading to more than 5,000 patents and helped generate multiple Nobel Prizes. In short, it is crucial to innovation.

Without helium, a lot of scientific research would come to a halt. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of technical equipment would be shut down, and the education and training of every student who uses it would cease.

Yet due in large part to disruptions in the supply chain — particularly the continuing economic isolation of Qatar by many of its neighbors — and unplanned production outages, scientists and engineers across the United States are grappling with shortages and rising prices of liquid helium.”

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