Defense

August 19, 2013

Helium supply critical to Army research

Tags:
Ryan Keith
Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

Henry Everitt, Ph.D., senior research scientist for optical sciences at the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., describes the critical role liquid helium plays in conducting basic research of terahertz spectroscopic and imaging techniques.

Army senior research scientist Henry Everitt doesn’t take helium lightly, because the second lightest element in the universe is in high demand by research laboratories such as his at the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.

“Helium is a much more useful material than just for balloons,” Everitt said. “Helium is, because of its unique properties, the element that is primarily used for cryogenics. It’s what we use to do cold experiments; to cool things down to very cold temperatures.”

Roughly a third of the world’s helium is supplied by the Federal Helium Reserve, an underground stockpile located just outside of Amarillo, Texas. The reserve was established in 1925 as a strategic supply of gas for airships. In the 1950s it became an important source of coolant during the space race and Cold War.

Today the single largest use of liquid helium is in cooling MRI machines. Helium is used in manufacturing semiconductors and fiber optic cables. It is used to pressurize and purge piping systems, detect leaks, and specialized welds.

Scientists and engineers at U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center use helium to conduct cryogenic research.

“The primary use of cryogens for the public’s interest is detectors, whether its medical detectors, Border Patrol detectors, or in my lab,” Everitt said.

Everitt leads two active research groups and advises the Army and DOD on a variety of emerging technologies. One lab focuses on plasmonics and the ultrafast optical characterization of wide bandgap semiconductor heterostructures and nano structures. Another lab focuses on developing terahertz spectroscopic and imaging techniques, serving as an honest broker for the Army in emerging THz technologies.

“I have detectors that require liquid helium,” Everitt said. “And the reason for that is, when you’re detecting some really weak signal, you need to make all the background go away. And you do that by cooling down the detector so much so that the only signal that you’re seeing is the signal that you want. The rest of the world is ‘cooled away.'”

At the Charles M. Bowden Laboratory, Everitt has several cryostats for conducting experiments as low as 1 Ω degrees above absolute zero. Liquid helium is the only material capable of maintaining these temperatures.

Today these cryostats are collecting dust.

“For the last three or four years I have not been able to get helium, and many of my experiments depend on liquid helium to work,” Everitt explained. “So it’s dramatically affected the way I work.”

He attributes this primarily to changes in practice in the supply chain, volatility in the helium market over the last decade, and uncertainty over the future supply. A 2010 report by the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Selling the Nation’s Helium Reserve” discusses these affects on the helium market.
On Oct. 7, 2013, the Federal Helium Reserve will no longer be allowed to sell helium to private industrial and scientific users per the Helium Privatization Act of 1996.

“Helium is a precious, precious and relatively rare commodity,” Everitt said. A reduction in the national supply would have “a direct impact on the work we do in Huntsville.”

Editors note: AMRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness – technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment – to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC delivers it.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. DeNoris A. Mickle

‘Sentient data’ may one day augment Soldier capability

Air Force photograph by SSgt. DeNoris A. Mickle Air Force photograph by SSgt. DeNoris A. Mickle “Sentient data,” or information that can feel and perceive things, might one day protect Soldiers and their networks, s...
 
 
Air Force photograph

AEDC conducts space environment test for U.S. Navy

Air Force photograph Members of AEDC’s Space Threat Assessment Testbed (STAT) Test & Evaluation team install a microsatellite in the STAT chamber before conducting a test. The Space and Missiles Combined Test Force at the...
 
 
Air Force photograph

Technology project at Range G focuses on boundary layer transition testing

Air Force photograph A technology project is taking place in Range G at AEDC to prepare for advanced hypersonic testing. Pictured here is the inside of the Range G impact and ballistic launch facility. Boundary layer transition...
 

 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Brittany Bateman

Third armaments revolution set to unfold

Air Force photograph by SrA. Brittany Bateman The Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Missile, or C-RAM, gun fires flares during a weapons test at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Jan. 31, 2010. The C-RAM has the ability to fire up to 4,500 roun...
 
 

Eglin to temporarily host Navy backup F-35C fleet

The Air Force recently signed an Addendum to the Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Base Realignment and Closure 2014 record of decision for two temporary actions–shifting the primary runway to Runway 01/19 (RW 01/19) and allowing a temporary increase in previously limited F-35 operations for the construction-related closure of Runway 12/30, and the Department of...
 
 
Navy photograph

NAWCWD counts down to fully operational T-Range

Navy photograph Engineering technicians Eugene Woods, left, and Chad Carrasco tighten bolts on a high-temperature burner at the T-Range in China Lake, Calif., Feb. 25. These burners are capable of replicating Mach 4 conditions ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>