What is Helium?
Helium is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, chemical element with the chemical symbol He, atomic number 2. It is a monatomic noble gas that lies in group 18 of the periodic table.
Helium is the second lightest element after hydrogen which can not be solidified at normal temperature and pressure.
During the solar eclipse, a new yellow line of the electromagnetic spectrum was first observed in the sun chromophore. Scientists Lockyer and Frankland assigned it to the new element named helium from the Greek word helios meaning sun.
The same line was observed by L. Palmieri in the spectrum of volcanic gases. Ramsay suggested that helium and argon belong to a new group like zero groups in the periodic table with the other three gases to complete the table.
Properties of Helium
Helium is the second least reactive noble gas after neon and the second least reactive element of the periodic table. The lack of chemical reactivity of noble gases like helium is the reason to call it inert gas.
|Sir William Ramsay and independently by Per Teodor Cleve and Nils Abraham Langlet in 1895
|Origin of the name
|The name is derived from the Greek word ‘helios’ meaning sun
|State at 20°C
|Relative atomic mass
|Electron per shell
|Density (g cm−3)
|Atomic radius (Å)
|Electron affinity (kJ mol−1)
|Ionisation energies (kJ mol−1)
Helium in Periodic Table
Helium is a noble gas that places in group-18 and period-1 in the periodic table. It is the only s-block element that is placed along with p-block elements.
Abundance and Occurrence
Helium (23 percent) is the second most abundant element after hydrogen (76 percent). Due to its lightweight, it is present in the earth’s atmosphere in very negligible amounts to the extent of one percent.
Helium consists of two stable isotopes like 4He and 3He. He-4 is formed by the alpha-ray decay of radioactive elements and He-3 is formed by the nuclear reaction of cosmic radiation.
It occurs to the extent of 5.24 ppm by volume in dry air and 3 × 10−3 ppm by weight of igneous rocks. The most economical source of helium is natural gas which contains 7 percent of noble gas.
Chemistry of Helium Gas
All the elements of the noble gas family, except He, have an s2p6 configuration but He has a closed-shell 1s2 configuration. The electronic configuration of the elements suggests that it contains completely filled s-orbitals with a very stable configuration. The energy required for the promotion of an electron to the next available orbitals is quite large. For this reason, covalent bonding by hybridization in helium atoms is highly unfavorable.
Due to very high ionization energy, ionic bonding is similarly difficult for the said element. The ionization energy of elements along the group decreases for higher members of the family.
Cations like He+ and He2+ are formed in the mass spectrometer. First, He+ is formed when a He atom collides with an energetic electron in a high vacuum. If the pressure inside the spectrometer is suitably adjusted, the He+ ion combines with the natural He atom to form a He2+ ion. Such species are stable in vacuum only with bond order 0.5 and very high bond energy.
Uses of Helium
- As a refrigerant, liquid helium is used in the chemistry and physics laboratory to create low-temperature
- It is used for the formation of an inert atmosphere in welding metals.
- It is also used in various scientific experiments and in meteorological balloons.
- It is used as a substituent for nitrogen in the breathing gas for deep-sea rivers.
- In a high-temperature nuclear reactor, helium is used as a coolant for the reactor in nuclear power generation.