Helium IS an element.
Helium is an odorless colorless element with only two electrons orbiting the nucleus. It is one of the most abundant elements in the universe following hydrogen. Located in the upper right corner of the periodic table, helium’s atomic symbol is He and its atomic number is 2. [“Helium (He).” Chemical Elements.com]
The name helium is derived from the Greek word helios, meaning sun . The first evidence of helium’s existence was detected in 1868 by Jules Caesar Jannsen during a solar eclipse as he studied the solar spectrum. Frankland and Lockyer simultaneously studied the phenomenon, naming it helium, derived from the Greek word helios, meaning the sun. It wasn’t until 1895 that Nobel Prize laureate, Sir William Ramsay, discovered helium on earth while seeking sources of argon. [“Periodic Table of Elements” Los Alamos National Laboratory] [“Biography- Sir William Ramsay.” Nobelprize.org] *
The Properties of Helium
Apart from hydrogen, helium is the least dense of the elements. It is the second simplest atom, with two protons, two neutrons and two electrons. Furthermore, it has the lowest melting and boiling points of all the. Because it does not form chemical compounds with other elements, it is in a family of elemental gases known as inert gases or noble gases. Though liquid Helium turns into a gas as it is heated, it does not turn into a solid as it is cooled. Only by applying pressure during the cooling process can one convert liquid helium to a solid. [“Group 18: The Noble Gases ” University of California Davis]
A Versatile Element
Though not discovered on earth until the end of the 19th century, helium has quickly become an indispensable element. The most stable element, it doesn’t burn, become radioactive or react with other elements, making it a very practical medium with which to work. It is a principal agent for cooling nuclear reactors. It had a role in launching NASA’s space shuttles. It makes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) possible. Weather balloons, party balloons and blimps are all filled with Helium. A helium-neon laser is used for eye surgeries and laser pointers. Helium is such a versatile element with valuable characteristics that it is employed for everything from leak detection to liquid fuel rockets to supersonic wind tunnels and more. [“Helium Facts” The Bureau of Land Management]
*It should be noted that there are many varying opinions about who is credited with officially discovering helium. For example, while Nobelprize.org credits Nobel prize laureate Sir William Ramsay, NASA.gov credits Joseph Norman Lockyer. (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap010120.html)
“Helium (He).” Chemical Elements.com – Helium (He). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Jan. 2013. <http://www.chemicalelements.com/elements/he.html>.
“Periodic Table of Elements” Los Alamos National Laboratory. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Jan. 2013 http://periodic.lanl.gov/2.shtml
“Biography- Sir William Ramsay.” Nobelprize.org –. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Jan. 2013.
“Group 18: The Noble Gases .” University of California Davis ChemWiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2013. http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/Inorganic_Chemistry/Descriptive_Chemistry/Main_Group_Elements/Group_18%3A_The_Noble_Gases
“Helium Facts.” BLM – The Bureau of Land Management. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2013. http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/energy/helium/helium_facts.html