Compound the error

January 26, 2012

In response to the shortage of helium for his research, Ray Dolan, a professor at University College London's Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, suggests that in the long run it might be possible to synthesise the gas at much greater cost ("Helium shortage not a gas as labs postpone 'optimal' work on grey matter", 19 January).

Chemical synthesis would require a (cheap) helium compound as a starting material but, rather unfortunately, helium, being a noble gas, forms no stable (or cheap) compounds: in fact, it is arguable whether it can form compounds at all.

This only leaves transmutation of some other element to helium: this occurs in the Sun (from hydrogen). Our attempts to generate energy by nuclear fusion are currently only at an early stage, so this route - on Earth, at least - seems unlikely. I suppose there's always alchemy. (Once a chemist, always a chemist...)

Peter B. Baker, London

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy