[Helium], used to cool atoms to around -270C to reduce their vibrations and make them easier to study, is now becoming worryingly scarce, said Kirichek. Research facilities probing the structure of matter, medical scanners and other advanced devices that use the gas may soon have to reduce operations or close because we are frittering away the world's limited supplies of helium on party balloons.
"It costs £30,000 a day to operate our neutron beams, but for three days we had no helium to run our experiments on those beams," said Kirichek. "In other words we wasted £90,000 because we couldn't get any helium. Yet we put the stuff into party balloons and let them float off into the upper atmosphere, or we use it to make our voices go squeaky for a laugh. It is very, very stupid. It makes me really angry."