Helium Balloon in a Car

By Anupum Pant

Background

Whenever I choose to write about Helium, there’s something I almost never forget to mention – Helium is precious (Click to know why). So, if you’ve read that, you’ll know that you shouldn’t use it in party balloons, nor should you use it to make your voice sound funny. These are the most silliest things you could do with a borderline non-renewable resource. However, if someone uses it in party balloons to make science look cool to 5-year-old, it’s beautiful.

The Experiment

Destin, a super-cool dad, from the YouTube channel Smarter every day, did exactly that. This is what he did:

Pendulum in a car: First, he tied a pendulum to the roof of his car. Then he accelerated the car. As everyone must have guessed, the pendulum moved back as the car accelerated. It’s natural for our brains to assume that everything would move back in an accelerating vehicle.

Helium Balloon in a car: Next, he tied a balloon filled with Helium to the base of the car. Then, right when he was about to accelerate his car, he asked his 5 year olds sitting in the back seat – “Where do you think the balloon would go if I accelerate?”

Answer the question before proceeding, and reason it if you can. (Even if you don’t know it, it’s easier to guess it right now because of the build up I gave in the previous paragraphs)

The Answer

Unless you already have dealt with this “anomaly”, it’s pretty tough to guess that the balloon would actually move forward as the car accelerates. Yes, it moves forward! Something moving forward in an accelerating car sounds counter intuitive. I knew it because someone had asked me it in a physics puzzle sometime back. Just for the record, I had answered it wrong then. There’s no way I could have guessed, or reasoned it accurately the first time. Did you?

The balloon seems to be defying the laws of physics. But a helium balloon moving forward as the car accelerates can be completely explained by physics. It’s just our brain fooling us again.

Simple Analogy

Here’s how Destin explains it with a simple analogy – using a glass jar filled incompletely with water (so there’s an air bubble inside). Assume that the glass jar is like the car. The water in it, is like the air in the car. And the Helium balloon is like the air bubble in the jar – Since an air bubble is lighter than water, it is safe to assume that because even Helium is lighter than the air.

Now when the jar accelerates forward, the water in the jar moves back – so does the air in the car. As a result, the air in the jar moves forward – just like the Helium balloon does.

Here, watch the video if that sounds too confusing…

Most of you probably know this. But I’m sure that many don’t. Moreover I found the video really cute – A super cool dad explaining science to his little kids in a car. Plus they ask you to go to their audible link that would get you a free audio book. At the same time, it would help a cool dad fund his children’s education. My heart melted. If nothing, the video will at least make you smile.

Superfluid Helium is One Strange Liquid

By Anupum Pant

Helium can’t be frozen into a solid (at atmospheric pressure) – the very property which allows it to go from a simple liquid Helium state (warmer) at minus 269 degree C – where its boiling and evaporating quickly – to a much calmer Liquid Helium II stage (cooler).

Liquid Helium  II is obtained at a temperature lower than minus 269 degree C, at about minus 271 degree C – known as the Lambda point.

Liquid Helium II is a superfluid. Superfluid Helium has no viscosity. It behaves extraordinarily. As a summary of how extraordinary superfluid Helium is, here is a list of things it can do:

  • Superfluid Helium will leak out of solid ceramic containers which have extremely tiny pores that no other liquid can penetrate.
  • If it is taken in a container and the container is spun around the central axis, the superfluid will not spin.
  • Somehow if you manage to spin it, because it has no friction, it won’t stop.
  • It can climb walls of a container by forming an extremely thin film and defying gravity.
  • It can produce an eternal frictionless fountain.
  • It can conduct electricity better than some of the best metal conductors like Copper! It’s a big thing for a liquid to be able to do that.

Here is a summary video you can watch below.

But, I’d suggest watching the whole documentary here. It explains everything that superfluid helium can do in nice detail. Also, the researcher makes sure it is in a very simple language…

Is Helium Beer Possible?

By Anupum Pant

Background

For the fizz, almost all beers have carbon dioxide dissolved in them. However, some others have also experimented with Nitrogen beers. But as fas as I know, no other gases have been used to make beers. Tell me in the comments section if you know any other gasses that have been used to do this.

But, on April 1st  Samuel Adams announced a Helium beer on his YouTube Channel. Note, the date was 1st  April. Here is the video of the announcement.

Save Helium and Science of the Fake Beer

Of course it was an April fools stunt. But what if it was real?

In his “HeliYum beer” Adam announced that, instead of carbon dioxide to create the fizz, he had used the Helium gas in the beer. In the video, as an additional effect, the new beer gas also created a funny atmosphere by affecting the voice of beer tasters. Now, I certainly didn’t like the idea of using Helium to keg beers because I’m very touchy when it comes to wasting the precious gas – Helium. Why? Well, read this Helium article I wrote some time back.

Also, I was adamant in believing if it was even possible to do that. Firstly, the date was 1st  April. Secondly, the science clearly didn’t allow this. Here’s why…

1. Helium is about 700 times less soluble in water as compared to carbon dioxide. It is one of the least soluble gases in water and only about 0.0016 g of Helium would get dissolved in a litre of beer. While, at the same conditions, 2.5 g of carbon dioxide is usually present in a litre of beer. This dissolved carbon dioxide is what realeases slowly and creates the fizz. No slow fizz can be done with Helium. Undissolved helium in beer would coalesce into one or two big bubble and…ploop, would go out as soon as the seal would break.

2. Even if Helium was forced into the beer and sealed in a beer can, it would be useless. As soon as the seal would break, all the meaningful amount of helium present inside, undissolved, under pressure, would come out so quickly (due to less viscous beer) that it would bring out a lot of beer with it. It would create a mess. And you wouldn’t be able to even bring the can near your face by the time the whole gas goes away.

Had carbon dioxide been used for the same purpose, the gas would, like it normally does, come out steadily. It would make the bubbles last.

Verdict: No. It’s useless to try to make beer with Helium unless you make it so viscous that it won’t let the Helium pass so easily. In that case, it won’t be beer really. Also, I’m not sure if the fermentation process could take place in such a viscous condition.

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