Particle physics experiments

Helium shortage hits Harvard; forces the end of certain experiments

The Harvard Gazette reports that a global helium shortage, caused in large part by sanctions against Russia, which ships much of the world’s supply, is beginning to affect research in physics, engineering, chemistry, biology and research. medical, all of which use gas to cool things down to temperatures well below freezing.

At Harvard, researchers may have to shut down expensive technical equipment that relies on helium and liquid helium, the supercool liquid version of the gas. In some cases, this could cause irrevocable damage to instruments and force some scientists to halt their research. Some ripple effects could include delays in graduation for students whose thesis work depends on these projects. …

Charles Vidoudez of the Harvard Center for Mass Spectrometry begins to lose sleep over the shortage. Vidoudez, the center’s principal research scientist, uses it to keep four of the facility’s mass spectrometers at the extremely low pressures they must be at to operate. The shutdown would affect dozens of labs that depend on the center to carry out a range of analyzes using the machines. Vidoudez spent countless hours calling or emailing nearly every supplier he could find.

A leak in mid-January at the US National Helium Reserve in Texas didn’t help, researchers say.