Everyone who watches The Big Bang Theory on TV must have had a hearty laugh when Sheldon’s voice went funny in the 9th episode of season 3 (video).
In the video, when Sheldon starts talking on an NPR show about magnetic monopoles , Kripke uses a Helium tank to fill Sheldon’s room with Helium. As a result, his [Sheldon’s] voice shifts pitch and starts sounding really funny.
In this article we’ll see, what is it in Helium that makes our voices go funny. And we’ll also see another interesting gas that makes your voice sound like a cowboy. But first, some things about Helium:
1. Do not use Helium to play. It is kind of a non-renewable resource. At the same time, it is used in laboratories for physics experiments. When you play with it and release it into the atmosphere, Helium is lost forever. I wrote an article on this couple of days back. [Understanding the impending Helium crisis]
2. Although Helium is a non-toxic gas and no it doesn’t kill brain cells, it can still kill you. Pranks like the one Kripke uses, which could potentially fill up the whole room with Helium could have lethal consequences. Too much Helium and you’ll not be breathing [enough] Oxygen. Even if you don’t care about the first point, you should think about inhaling more than 3 Helium filled balloons (or any other gas) during parties – it could kill you by asphyxiation (specifically, Hypoxia).
Talking about death, these speakers can also kill you – Plasma Speakers.
Why does Helium make voices go Daffy duck?
Helium is the second lightest element (gas) after Hydrogen. It is six times lighter than air. And if you’ve read this article on how sound works, you probably know that sound travels with different speeds through different mediums.
The speed of sound is about 3 times faster in helium, than in air. When you take in Helium, it increases the speed of sound that comes out of your mouth. It does nothing to your vocal chords. Faster sound and same wavelength results in a higher frequency sound.
Contrary to what is popularly believed, Helium doesn’t technically alters the pitch of your voice. [Read more]
Helium voices are quite popular. On the other hand, sulphur Hexafluoride voices aren’t very commonly known.
Completely opposite to Helium, this is 6 times heavier than air. So, inhaling it makes your voice go really deep. The mechanism is just opposite to that of Helium. It makes sound move slower. Again, technically, it doesn’t change the pitch of your voice. Watch the video below:
Where can you find this gas?
Sulfur hexafluoride is used for eye surgery and ultrasound in hospitals. Also, it is widely used in the industry for various things. So, you could go to someone, who supplies gasses like these (Oxygen, Argon etc.) to hospitals and industries. Then you could request them to let you collect it in a small balloon (they won’t let you).
So, you could simply study science, work in laboratories and have such fun activities everyday (in moderation).
Side Note: Inhaling another non-toxic noble gas, Xenon, also does something similar. It is heavier than air so it makes your voice deep. At the same time, xenon will make your pockets extremely light.