Helium Properties, usage, isotopes, methods of production and applications

Helium Properties

Helium properties, discovery, usage, isotopes, methods of production, applications, interesting facts, FAQs, Thermal, physical, chemical and magnetic properties

Introduction to Helium Properties and Atomic Information:

Helium is a chemical element that holds a special place in the periodic table. With its atomic number 2 and symbol He, helium is the second lightest element and the second most abundant in the universe after hydrogen. It is a noble gas, meaning it belongs to a group of highly stable and non-reactive elements. Helium possesses unique characteristics and finds numerous applications across various industries and scientific fields. In this article, we will explore the properties of helium and provide an atomic information table showcasing its atomic number, symbol, atomic weight, and valency.

Atomic Information of Helium:

Atomic NumberSymbolAtomic WeightValency
Atomic Information of Helium

The table above presents the atomic information of helium. It has an atomic number of 2, indicating that it contains two protons in its nucleus. The symbol He is derived from the Greek word “helios,” meaning the sun, as helium was first discovered in the solar spectrum. The atomic weight of helium is approximately 4.0026 atomic mass units, making it the second lightest element.

When it comes to valency, helium has a valency of zero. Valency represents the combining capacity of an element with other elements. Since helium has a complete outer electron shell consisting of two electrons, it does not readily form chemical bonds or engage in chemical reactions. This stability and lack of valency contribute to helium’s non-reactive nature and its use in various applications.

Conclusion: In summary, helium is a noble gas with atomic number 2 and symbol He. It possesses unique properties due to its stable electron configuration, which includes a full outer electron shell. The atomic information table provided showcases helium’s atomic weight and its valency, which is zero. These characteristics make helium invaluable for a wide range of applications, including cryogenics, balloon inflation, medical imaging, and even as a coolant in nuclear reactors. Helium’s abundance in the universe and its diverse applications highlight its significance in scientific research and various industries.

Helium: Discovery, Usage, and Key Points

Discovery of Helium:

Helium was first discovered in 1868 by the French astronomer Pierre Janssen and independently by the English astronomer Norman Lockyer. While observing a solar eclipse, they noticed a yellow spectral line in the sun’s chromosphere, which was later identified as a new element. The name “helium” was derived from the Greek word “helios,” meaning the sun, to honor its discovery in the solar spectrum.

Helium was first discovered in 1868 by the French astronomer Pierre Jansse
Helium was first discovered in 1868 by the French astronomer Pierre Jansse

Usage of Helium:

  1. Balloon Inflation: One of the most well-known uses of helium is in filling balloons. Due to its low density and non-flammability, helium is widely employed to inflate balloons for celebrations, scientific experiments, and airships.
  2. Cryogenics: Helium’s extremely low boiling point (-268.93°C or -452°F) makes it an ideal coolant for various applications in cryogenics. It is used to maintain low temperatures in superconducting magnets, cooling infrared detectors, and preserving biological samples.
  3. Welding: Helium’s high thermal conductivity and inert nature make it useful in welding applications. When combined with other gases, helium creates an inert atmosphere that protects the welding area from oxidation and allows for cleaner and more precise welds.
  4. MRI Scanning: Helium is crucial for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. It cools the superconducting magnets in the MRI scanner, enabling them to produce strong and stable magnetic fields necessary for high-quality imaging.
  5. Deep-Sea Diving: Helium is used in mixed-gas diving techniques, such as heliox and trimix, to prevent nitrogen narcosis and decompression sickness. By substituting some of the nitrogen in breathing gas with helium, divers can explore greater depths safely.

Important Points to Remember about Discovery and Usage:

Discovered in 1868 by Janssen and LockyerBalloon inflation
Derived from the Greek word “helios”Cryogenics
Yellow spectral line observed in the sunWelding
Used for filling balloonsMRI scanning
Deep-sea diving
Important Points to Remember about Discovery and Usage

Conclusion: Helium’s discovery in the sun’s spectrum by Janssen and Lockyer marked the beginning of its journey as a fascinating and versatile element. Its usage spans across a range of applications, including balloon inflation, cryogenics, welding, MRI scanning, and deep-sea diving. The table provided summarizes the key points to remember about helium’s discovery and usage, emphasizing its significance in various industries and scientific fields.

Helium Properties and Key Points

Helium Properties:

Helium possesses unique properties that distinguish it from other elements. Let’s explore some key characteristics of helium:

  1. Chemical Element: Helium is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It belongs to the noble gas group in the periodic table, making it highly stable and non-reactive.
  2. Lightest Element: Helium is the second lightest element, with an atomic weight of approximately 4.0026 atomic mass units. It consists of two protons, two neutrons, and two electrons.
  3. Non-Flammable: Helium is a non-flammable gas, making it a safe option for various applications. Unlike hydrogen, it does not combust when exposed to open flames.
  4. Low Boiling and Melting Points: Helium has incredibly low boiling (-268.93°C or -452°F) and melting points (-272.20°C or -457.96°F). These characteristics make helium an excellent coolant for applications requiring extremely low temperatures, such as superconductivity research.
  5. Non-Toxic: Helium is non-toxic, making it safe for human exposure. It is widely used in medical applications, including MRI scanners and respiratory therapies.
  6. Low Solubility: Helium has low solubility in liquids and gases, which allows it to diffuse rapidly. This property is beneficial in leak testing and as a tracer gas in various industries.

Important Points to Remember about Helium Properties:

PropertyKey Point
Chemical ElementSecond lightest element
Non-FlammableLow boiling and melting points
Non-ToxicLow solubility
Important Points to Remember about Helium Properties

Conclusion: Helium exhibits distinctive properties that contribute to its wide range of applications. As a noble gas, it is chemically inert and non-flammable, ensuring safety in its usage. Its low boiling and melting points, non-toxicity, and low solubility make helium invaluable in fields such as cryogenics, medical applications, and leak testing. The table provided summarizes the key points to remember about the properties of helium, highlighting its significance and versatility as an element.

Brief on Helium Isotopes and Compounds:

Isotopes of Helium:

Helium has two naturally occurring isotopes: helium-3 (^3He) and helium-4 (^4He). These isotopes differ in their neutron numbers, which results in variations in their atomic masses and properties.

  1. Helium-3 (^3He): Helium-3 is a stable isotope of helium with one neutron in its nucleus. It accounts for a tiny fraction of the helium found on Earth. ^3He is used in various scientific and research applications, including nuclear fusion experiments, neutron detection, and as a contrast agent in medical imaging.
  2. Helium-4 (^4He): Helium-4 is the most abundant isotope of helium and constitutes nearly all of the helium present on Earth. It has two neutrons in its nucleus and is known for its unique properties, such as superfluidity and superconductivity at extremely low temperatures. ^4He is widely used in cryogenic applications, cooling superconducting magnets, and scientific research.

Compounds of Helium:

Helium is a noble gas and is generally unreactive, thus forming very few compounds. It is primarily found as a pure element. However, under specific conditions and with the involvement of other highly reactive elements, helium can form a few compounds.

  1. Helium Hydride (HeH+): Helium hydride is the first compound formed in the universe, consisting of a helium cation (He+) and a hydrogen anion (H-). It was detected in the interstellar medium and is considered an important molecule in astrophysics.
  2. Helium Dimer (He2): Helium dimer, also known as helium diatomic or helium molecule, is a weakly bound dimer of two helium atoms. It is stabilized by van der Waals forces. Helium dimer has been studied extensively in research laboratories to understand the behavior of weakly bound molecular systems.
  3. Helium-Neon Laser (He-Ne Laser): Although not a compound in the strict sense, helium can be used in conjunction with other elements to form lasers. The helium-neon laser is a common type of gas laser that emits visible red light and finds applications in barcode scanners, laser pointers, and scientific research.

It’s important to note that despite the existence of these compounds, helium primarily exists as a monoatomic gas due to its stable electronic configuration.

In conclusion, helium has two isotopes, helium-3 and helium-4, each with distinct properties and applications. While helium primarily exists as a monoatomic gas, it can form compounds such as helium hydride and helium dimer under specific conditions. These compounds, along with helium’s role in the helium-neon laser, contribute to the broader understanding and utilization of this unique element.

Thermal, Physical, Chemical, and Magnetic Properties of Helium:

Thermal Properties of Helium:

  1. Boiling Point: Helium has an extremely low boiling point of -268.93°C (-452°F), which is one of the lowest among all elements. This characteristic makes it valuable in cryogenic applications.
  2. Melting Point: Helium also has an exceptionally low melting point of -272.20°C (-457.96°F). Its low melting and boiling points allow it to remain in a gaseous state even at very low temperatures.
  3. Thermal Conductivity: Helium exhibits high thermal conductivity, meaning it is efficient in transferring heat. This property makes it useful in applications where heat transfer and cooling are required, such as in cryogenics and superconducting systems.

Physical Properties of Helium:

  1. Density: Helium is the second lightest element and has a low density compared to other gases. Its density is approximately 0.1785 kg/m^3 at standard conditions, making it significantly lighter than air.
  2. Color and Odor: Helium is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, making it imperceptible to our senses.
  3. State at Room Temperature: At standard temperature and pressure, helium exists as a gas. It does not readily condense or solidify under normal conditions.

Chemical Properties of Helium:

  1. Chemical Inertness: Helium is a noble gas, which means it is highly chemically inert and does not readily form compounds with other elements. It has a complete outer electron shell, making it stable and unreactive.
  2. Lack of Valency: Helium has a valency of zero, indicating that it does not form chemical bonds with other elements. This property further contributes to its inert nature.

Magnetic Properties of Helium:

  1. Diamagnetic: Helium is diamagnetic, meaning it weakly repels magnetic fields. It exhibits no permanent magnetic properties and does not retain magnetization when subjected to an external magnetic field.
  2. Lack of Electron Spin: Helium does not possess unpaired electrons with spin, which is why it lacks significant magnetic properties.

In conclusion, helium exhibits unique thermal properties, including an extremely low boiling and melting point, high thermal conductivity, and low density. It is a colorless and odorless gas that remains in a gaseous state at room temperature. Chemically, helium is inert and lacks valency, making it unreactive and stable. It is diamagnetic and does not exhibit significant magnetic properties. These properties collectively contribute to the diverse applications of helium in cryogenics, cooling systems, and other scientific and industrial fields.

Methods of Production and Applications of Helium:

Methods of Production of Helium:

  1. Extraction from Natural Gas: The primary method of helium production is through the extraction from natural gas reserves. Helium is a byproduct of natural gas deposits, particularly those rich in helium content. Extraction involves cryogenic separation processes, where natural gas is cooled to extremely low temperatures to separate and capture helium.
  2. Helium Recovery from Air: Helium can also be produced through air liquefaction and subsequent separation processes. This method is less common and more energy-intensive compared to natural gas extraction. It involves the liquefaction of air, followed by fractional distillation to separate and recover helium.

Applications of Helium:

  1. Cryogenics: Helium’s low boiling and melting points make it indispensable in cryogenic applications. It is used to cool superconducting magnets in MRI machines, particle accelerators, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers. Helium’s properties enable the creation and maintenance of extremely low temperatures necessary for superconductivity and other scientific research.
  2. Balloon Inflation: One of the most well-known applications of helium is for filling balloons. Helium-filled balloons are used in celebrations, advertising, and scientific experiments. The low density and non-flammability of helium allow balloons to float effortlessly in the air.
  3. Welding: Helium is commonly mixed with other gases, such as argon, for shielding during welding processes. The inert nature and high thermal conductivity of helium assist in preventing oxidation and ensuring cleaner, more precise welds.
  4. Leak Detection: Helium’s low solubility and low density make it an excellent tracer gas for leak detection purposes. It is used to identify leaks in various systems, including pipes, valves, and vacuum chambers, in industries such as HVAC, refrigeration, and aerospace.
  5. Breathing Mixtures for Diving: In deep-sea diving, helium is used in mixtures such as heliox and trimix to reduce the effects of nitrogen narcosis and prevent decompression sickness. These mixtures provide safer diving conditions at greater depths.
  6. Scientific Research: Helium plays a crucial role in scientific research across various fields. It is used in experiments involving superfluidity, quantum mechanics, and low-temperature physics. Helium is also utilized in gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, and other analytical techniques.
  7. Laser Technology: Helium is used in gas lasers, particularly the helium-neon (He-Ne) laser. These lasers emit visible red light and find applications in barcode scanners, laser pointers, holography, and scientific research.

In conclusion, helium is primarily produced through natural gas extraction and, to a lesser extent, air liquefaction. It has diverse applications in cryogenics, balloon inflation, welding, leak detection, deep-sea diving, scientific research, and laser technology. Helium’s unique properties make it invaluable in various industries and contribute to advancements in technology, healthcare, and scientific exploration.

Top 10 Countries in Helium Production, Extraction, and Resources Capacity

RankCountryProduction (Million cubic meters per year)Extraction SourceResources Capacity (Billion cubic meters)
1United States85Natural Gas1.7
2Qatar54Natural Gas1.3
3Algeria28Natural Gas0.6
4Russia26Natural Gas1.2
5Australia22Natural Gas0.9
6Poland19Natural Gas0.3
7China15Natural Gas0.2
8Canada14Natural Gas0.2
9Uzbekistan13Natural Gas0.2
10Norway11Natural Gas0.3
Top 10 Countries in Helium Production, Extraction, and Resources Capacity

Note: Data is approximate and may vary based on different sources and timeframes.


  1. Production: The production column shows the estimated annual helium production in million cubic meters for each country.
  2. Extraction Source: The extraction source indicates the primary source of helium extraction, which is natural gas in this case.
  3. Resources Capacity: The resources capacity column represents the estimated total reserves or capacity of helium resources in billion cubic meters for each country.

The table provides an overview of the top 10 countries in terms of helium production, extraction, and resources capacity. The United States leads the list with the highest annual production, primarily sourced from natural gas. Qatar, Algeria, Russia, and Australia also contribute significantly to global helium production. The resources capacity column showcases the approximate total reserves or capacity of helium resources available in these countries.

Please note that the data presented in the table is approximate and subject to change as new information becomes available.

10 interesting facts about helium:

  1. Second Lightest Element: Helium is the second lightest element in the periodic table, after hydrogen. It has an atomic weight of approximately 4.0026 atomic mass units.
  2. Nobel Gas: Helium is classified as a noble gas, also known as an inert gas. It is unreactive and rarely forms compounds with other elements due to its stable electronic configuration.
  3. Liquid at Absolute Zero: Helium has the lowest boiling and melting points of any known substance. It remains a liquid even at temperatures close to absolute zero (-273.15°C or -459.67°F).
  4. Non-Flammable: Unlike hydrogen, helium is non-flammable and does not support combustion. It is a safe gas to use in various applications, including for filling balloons.
  5. Inert Gas for Deep-Sea Diving: Helium is used as a breathing gas in deep-sea diving to replace nitrogen in breathing mixtures. It helps prevent nitrogen narcosis and reduces the risk of decompression sickness at great depths.
  6. Voice-Modifying Effect: Inhaling helium temporarily changes the pitch of a person’s voice. This amusing effect is due to the different speed of sound in helium compared to air.
  7. Abundance in the Universe: Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen. It is primarily formed through nuclear fusion in stars.
  8. Valuable in Scientific Research: Helium is crucial for scientific research, particularly in low-temperature physics. It is used to cool superconducting magnets, study superfluidity, and explore quantum mechanics.
  9. Leak Detection: Helium’s low solubility and low density make it an ideal tracer gas for leak detection purposes. It is employed to locate leaks in various systems, such as pipes, valves, and vacuum chambers.
  10. Limited Earth Reserves: Although helium is abundant in the universe, it is relatively scarce on Earth. The majority of the Earth’s helium is generated by the natural radioactive decay of heavy elements, and its extraction is mainly obtained as a byproduct from natural gas wells.

These fascinating facts highlight the unique properties and versatile applications of helium. From its role in deep-sea diving and voice modulation to its importance in scientific research and leak detection, helium continues to captivate our curiosity and contribute to various fields.

10 common but interesting frequently asked questions (FAQs) about helium:

Why does helium make balloons float?

Helium is lighter than air, so when it is filled in balloons, it displaces the heavier air, causing the balloon to float. The buoyancy of helium makes it perfect for creating floating balloons.

Is helium a renewable resource?

No, helium is not a renewable resource. It is primarily obtained as a byproduct during the extraction of natural gas reserves. Once released into the atmosphere, helium escapes Earth’s gravity and is lost into space, making it a finite resource on our planet.

Can helium be used as a source of energy?

Helium itself cannot be used as a source of energy since it is an inert gas. However, helium is utilized in certain energy-related applications, such as cryogenics for cooling superconducting magnets in fusion reactors or as a coolant in nuclear reactors.

Is helium harmful to inhale?

Inhaling helium directly from a pressurized source can be dangerous and should be avoided. Helium displaces oxygen from the lungs, leading to a lack of oxygen and potentially causing asphyxiation. It is important to use helium in a safe and controlled manner.

Why is helium used in medical applications?

Helium’s low density and non-reactivity make it useful in medical applications. It is used in respiratory treatments to alleviate symptoms of certain respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Can helium be used for cooling electronic devices?

Helium’s high thermal conductivity and low boiling point make it effective for cooling electronic devices. It is used in certain specialized cooling systems for high-performance computers, superconducting magnets, and other heat-sensitive components.

Does helium have any biological effects?

Helium is biologically inert and does not have any direct biological effects on human health. However, inhaling helium in an uncontrolled manner can lead to oxygen deprivation, which can be harmful.

Can helium be compressed into a liquid?

Yes, helium can be compressed and cooled to form a liquid. At extremely low temperatures, close to absolute zero, helium condenses into a liquid state. Liquid helium exhibits unique properties, such as superfluidity.

Is helium used in space exploration?

Yes, helium is used in various space exploration missions. It is utilized in the cooling systems of scientific instruments, telescopes, and satellite systems. Helium is also used in propulsion systems for rockets and other spacecraft.

How is helium detected in the universe?

Helium is detected in the universe through spectroscopic observations. By analyzing the light emitted or absorbed by celestial objects, scientists can identify specific spectral lines associated with helium, allowing for its detection and measurement in various astronomical phenomena and helium properties.

These frequently asked questions provide insights into different aspects of helium and helium properties, ranging from its applications and safety considerations to its role in various fields, including medicine, electronics, and space exploration.

Free MCQs for GK and Exam preparations
Free MCQs for GK and Exam preparations

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