Helium is a scarce resource used in a lot of industries, but mostly to keep balloons afloat at children’s parties and to keep things really cool, like inside MRI machines. Access to helium is slowly tightening and prices are rising, so developing technologies that can avoid its use can help a long way. Helium use in MRI machines also has a major safety concern, being subject to a “quench” when it boils away due to an accident. Moreover, some helium inevitably escapes and the machine’s tank has to be filled up by specialized technicians.
Wired UK is reporting that Cryogenic, a company out of London, England, has developed technology that cools superconducting MRI magnets using only about a half liter of helium as opposed to around 1,700 liters used in a conventional scanner. The system works much like a typical refrigerator, but uses helium, instead of Freon or tetrafluoroethane, as the gas squeezed by the compressor. It’s completely enclosed and, like consumer fridges, doesn’t have to be refilled with the cryogen.