Monday, 26 March 2012

IMFW: Out Of Gas

Only a brief Interesting Medical Fact of the Week this time - and indeed it's only tenuously medical. Did you know that MRI scanners use helium to run? So does the Large Hadron Collider. Liquid helium is used to cool the super-conducting magnets sitting inside these machines and working hard at being magnetic.

Now I'm the first to acknowledge that's not a particularly interesting fact. But it leads on to the actual interesting fact, which is that the world is running out of helium; the US Government decided to sell off its federal helium reserve in the 1990s, which lead to extremely low helium prices. And that could have concerning consequences for medical imaging in the future. This would not be good; MRI scans are great because they don't use ionizing radiation, and they give good images of soft tissues compared with CT scans.

And as a bonus fact; MRI scanning rooms are usually equipped with oxygen monitors in case of unintentional shutdown, in which the liquid helium inside the scanner would boil. If it's not able to escape through a vent, the helium gas could escape into the scanning room and suffocate everyone. Whoop whoop!

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