Monday, October 15, 2012

Helium, MRIs, and Us!


It all began with the need for some balloons.

My sister had just received her Masters of Music and I was throwing a little surprise party.  No surprise party is complete without balloons, and balloons that float, so I made it my mission to acquire some balloons that float.

As you'll recall from your last Chemistry course, balloons are filled with an element called helium; atomic number two, located at the top right of the period table.  It's the second lightest element, a noble gas, and is non-toxic, colorless, tasteless, odorless.  It doesn't react to much, except vocal chords when inhaled, and its low atomic number makes it difficult to boil or burn.  Scientists believe that all available helium was created at the time of the Big Bang.  None has been created since.  Most of the helium we use is mined from beneath the flatlands of the United States.

Yahoo #2 and I went for balloons.  "I would like three dozen red balloons," I said.

I did not leave with three dozen red balloons, instead I left with only one dozen because my request for three was met with, "I'm sorry, but due to the helium shortage, I can only give you one dozen today."

What the?!  If only I had one of the electro magnetic cardio brain gamma ray machines available, so as to see the movement.  My brain was a-working!  That brain of mine hadn't had that much activity since, like, April.

"You mean to tell me that helium is used for more than balloons, and midget voices in movies, and inspiration for Led Zeppelin?!  Well.  I'll be!"

It's true.  Helium is used for more than balloons and voice-altering jokes and rock star blimps.  Turns out that helium plays a crucial role in medical field as a cooling agent for the MRI machine.

Thanks to an outlandashly long wait in a doctor's office, I had plenty of time to learn of this helium and MRI machine phenomenon.  MRI machines are giant magnets.  The human body, being mostly water, is made up of a lot of hydrogen – for each water molecule has two hydrogens and one oxygen.  When a human is placed in the magnetic field of an MRI machine, it causes the hydrogen atoms in the body to flip and sort of spin.  This flip and spin creates a contrast in the electromagnetic field that can be captured.  Mathematics and whatnot are then used to generate a 2D or 3D image.  All of this magnetic energy, this flipping and spinning, generates heat on the machine that must be diffused.  Helium is added to the MRI machine to keep the magnets from blowing up.  Or something like that.  (Blow-up drama added for effect.)

Helium, then, is used to cool off the heat generated from magnetic movement.  Helium, also, is in short supply.

It occurred to me just recently, that our (not so) little society has many MRI machines.  Our society has issues and controversies and opinions that cause each of our nuclei to flip and spin.  This flip and spin does a great job of showing contrast, yes?  Sure does.

Right now we have two doozies: the 2012 Election and the USADA/Lance Armstrong situation.  Both issues have been known to bring out the polarity in all.  We are fighting about parties, and fact checking, and tax returns, and spending binges, and budgets, and tax cuts, and millionaires, and drug tests, and witch hunts, and doping, and being clean, and....  the list goes on.

I've seen a fair amount of heat generated by fights that involve these two hot topics.  There's name calling and attacks; red faces and steam blowing out the ears.  Don't you think some of these fights could use a cooling agent?

It's too bad that due to the helium shortage, we can't suck helium when we fight. That'd cool things off for sure.

3 comments:

Tia said...

I read this blog post while on my stationary bike this morning. Very informative, factual, and entertaining. The girl can write -- oh, can she write! That there thinker housed inside your beautiful head went into overtime on this baby. I think my face was more tired from grinning than my legs were from spinning.

megan said...

I just want to know your stance...on Lance...in France

rabidrunner said...

Lance in France!
EPO'd in his Pants!

I think he's a bully who had a lot of money to aid in this bullying. That is what I think. My opinion is based on weekend spent reading the USADA report. I do not know Lance, nor do I ever plan to, so my assessment is one-sided. Well, multi-sided actually because I'm using what other cyclists have said and whereby the USADA typed it up into a real nice report.

Tia, you're already getting a Christmas present from me so you can just pipe down already. Grin.