7.2.15: Helium, Nitrate Film, & Hunting for Elements

Jul 2, 2015

It's the stuff that makes you sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks when you inhale it, it's the gas that fills balloons at birthday parties and is used in MRI machines and nuclear reactors -- and turns out, it's an increasingly rare element. Helium. (He) On today's show, we learn that it's not here to stay. Then, a hunt for elements. The periodic table has changed a lot, especially since 1941, when researchers at the University of California Berkeley produced the first man-made element: plutonium. (Pu) And the search to make more continues. And finally, a conversation about the Nitrate Picture Show in Rochester New York, a festival that screens incredibly flammable nitrate (NO3) films. 

Listen to the full show.

Helium Shortage

Mylar balloons may soon be an element of the past. Rosie Cima wrote an article for Priceonomics called "The Increasing Scarcity of Helium," and joined us to talk about the element that is becoming increasingly more rare.

Elemental Fact: Helium was found in the sun's atmosphere before it was found on earth, and was named for the Greek god of the sun, Helios. 

Why Helium Makes Our Voices Squeak

Joe Hanson, host and writer behind PBS Digital Studios' "It's Okay To Be Smart" joins us to talk about why helium makes our voices squeak.

Elemental Fact: Jimmy Fallon and Morgan Freeman also inhale helium from time to time.

Hunting For Elements

Elements are the building blocks of the universe ... and now there are people looking to push the frontiers of matter further than ever before. Rob Dunn, writer and biologist, joins us to talk about an article he wrote for National Geographic called "Element Hunters."

Elemental Fact: So far, there are 20 synthetic elements ... and the hunt is on for more.

Remaking the Science Fair

Baking soda volcanoes and Styrofoam models of planets ... and perhaps, according to some scientists, some missed opportunities. You can listen to Adam Hochberg's story again at prx.org.

Nitrate Picture Show

Many film buffs say that nothing compares to the beauty and richness of a movie from the Golden Age of cinema in its original format: Nitrocellulose. John Lingan joins us to talk about the Nitrate Picture Show -- the world's most dangerous film festival. You can read his article on it here.

Elemental Fact: Nitrate film, when ignited, creates flame so powerful that it can burn underwater.

Lost and Found

The story of a New Hampshire man who stumbled upon a box of dangerous treasure ... Tracy Mumford has the story, and you can listen to it again at prx.org.