The Things You Learn At Chick-Fil-A: Where Does Helium Come From?

So, PharmK’er and I were at the originator of the chicken sandwich and she wanted a balloon. She then asked why said balloon was floating. Dad was safe in explaining how helium is lighter than the nitrogen-oxygen-carbon dioxide mixture we breathe.
Then came the killer:

“Daddy, where does the helium come from to fill the balloons?”

“A compressed gas cylinder” was not the answer she was looking for.
Thankfully, PharmMom, MD, consulted “the great big book of everything.”
Commercial helium is fractionated from natural gas, where it comprises about 7-8% of its volume, particularly in deposits within 400 km of Amarillo, Texas. The decay of uranium and thorium into alpha particles provides the higher concentration of helium observed in natural gas deposits in Texas.
Whew.
I can’t imagine what awaits us during the teenage years.

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11 thoughts on “The Things You Learn At Chick-Fil-A: Where Does Helium Come From?

  1. *I know, I KNOw*
    Oh, you’ve answered the question already. Spoilsport.
    I read about it in a New Scientist article a few years ago. IT seemed then that it was definitely running out, so we’ll see if we get a helium shortage anytime soon.

  2. Yes and thanks to that helium shortage I’ve had Mossbauer/EPR experiments queuing up on me. argh. Stop filling balloons for your kids so I can get some data! (Kidding. Balloons are at least more likely to do something than my experiments…)

  3. I lived in Amarillo till I was 18, and I was always aware that we were big producers of helium, what with the 50 foot tall helium molecule/time capsule we had laying around, but I wasn’t aware it actually came out of natural gas. Interesting to know.

  4. Also one could point out Helium is in effect a non-renewable resource. The average velocity of Helium gas molecule is greater then the escape velocity for the Earth. Hydrogen and diatomic Hydrogen also have sufficient energy, but are likely to chemically interact along the way and by default stay on Earth. Helium as an inert gas will eventually make its way out of the Earth’s atmosphere, since Helium will not combine with something on the way upwards.

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