Revealing the secrets of helium

Curtin University researchers have made a major breakthrough by showing where helium atoms are trapped within individual mineral grains, providing information that can help to determine the geological history of the Earth’s crust and assist in monitoring natural hazards like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The researchers, led by Professor Brent McInnes of Curtin’s John de Laeter Centre, teamed up with Canberra-based high-technology instrument manufacturer ASI Pty Ltd to create a new laser microanalysis instrument, the RESOchron™, capable of measuring helium at high resolution – to one-tenth the width of a human hair.

Dr Martin Danišík, lead author of a paper on the research published in Science Advances, said helium − generated over long periods of time in uranium and thorium-bearing mineral crystals − was a highly sought-after commodity used in medical and industrial applications. It has also been used by geoscientists to date rocks.

“Scientists have been using the helium dating technique to determine the age of minerals for over 100 years, but until now, nobody has been able to observe the actual distribution of helium within the crystal structure,” Dr Danišík said.

Learn more:
New laser tool reveals helium secrets