Helium: Not Just for Party Balloons

Many of us associate helium with party balloons and helium tanks that you can buy at Walmart for $30. However, helium has many additional uses, is the second most abundant gas in the atmosphere, and has scientists worried. If helium is the second most abundant gas in the atmosphere, next to hydrogen, then why are scientists worried?

In “Helium stocks run low – and party balloons are to blame” by Robin McKie, McKie describes the issues scientists have with helium. Helium may be the second most abundant gas in the atmosphere, but it is a limited resource (McKie 4). Helium occurs as a result of radioactive decay and cannot be manufactured causing scientists to worry about the future of helium. The United States supplies most of the world’s helium, and comes from the Federal Helium Reserve located outside of Amarillo, Texas. The Federal Helium Reserve limits the amount of helium used each year, and as new uses for helium increases, the demand for helium increases (McKie 4). Helium is used primarily as a coolant in different types of machinery such as MRI scanners, but is also used for national defense, deep sea diving, powering spacecraft, and bar code scanners in grocery stores. With the increase usage in helium scientists are suffering. McKie builds the argument that party balloons are the reason scientists are suffering the loss of a “vital resource” (McKie 3). I agree with McKie’s argument that helium is being wasted in party balloons however, I disagree that party balloons are the primary reason scientists are suffering a shortage in helium. I argue that scientists are suffering helium shortages as a result of the increasing usages of helium.

Helium may seem rather irrelevant to our daily lives however it plays an important role in providing us with medical research and instruments, and national defenses. Without the medical and defensive technologies that helium has provided to the United States, the country could suffer from illness and increased military attacks. Helium also plays a role in course content. In Zone One by Colson Whitehead, a helium tank is introduced on page 65. Whitehead describes the infected female in the gorilla suit’s encounter with Mark Spitz, “When Mark Spitz shot her in the head she brought down the tank with her” (Whitehead 65). I hypothesize that Whitehead is foreshadowing the helium shortage that surfaced in 2012, one year after his book was published. When Mark Spitz shoots the infected female, he does not only bring down the female from the helium tank handle, but also the helium tank, symbolizing the loss of helium. I am interested to see if additional instances about helium occur in later chapters of Zone One.

Sources: Helium stocks run low – and party balloons are to blame


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