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Helium shortage could start affecting jobs and students

Helium shortage has forced professors to alter ciriculum.jpg
Professors use other gases to make up for helium shortage. (WWMT/Tarvarious Haywood)

There is a growing threat that in the near future there could possibly be no helium left in the world.

People mostly think about helium when blowing up balloons, but Kevin Blair, the instrumentation manager for Western Michigan University, said the element has many more uses.

He said the university chemistry students use helium in different instruments that help them advance them into their careers.

With the global shortage of helium it could start affecting research that supports modern life on earth.

He said helium is a non-renewable resource that only be made by stars.

Helium can be extracted from natural gas and countries like Qatar and Russia are the largest exporter of the inert gas. The gas is the second lightest element on the periodic table and if it is released without a way to recycle it will escape into space.

He said local officials also use the element in analysis machine such as DNA testing.

The shortage could also affect how doctors use everyday equipment.

Life-saving machines like MRI tests could become so expensive that only the rich could afford it.

In the recent years, at the university before the shortage Blair said, "we would pay roughly $200 for a cylinder helium."

Now, depending on the grade of helium, he could pay more than $20,000 for helium.

Professors have altered their curriculum in order to make sure students still get the information they need in order to succeed in their expertise.

"We have had to alter some of the labs in our classes to make sure we can afford to keep the instruments running. We now use nitrogen gas in some of our instruments instead of helium. It is not as good at separation, but it is safe."

He said a lot of manufacturing companies use helium to make items and for welders the shortage of helium could be catastrophic if the world's supply was diminished.

Blair said there are a some elements that can be used to get by, but there is no definitive replace for helium. Some instruments that the university have, it's either helium or nothing.

He said its something that scientist must join together to come up with a solution, which include recycling the gas.