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Question

How does one 'liquify' helium? How is it cooled enough to become a liquid?
Asked by: Shannon Range

Answer

To answer this question, I must start with the ideal gas equation:

PV=nRT

This equation states that Pressure(P) times Volume(V) equals the number of moles(n) times a constant(R) times Temperature(T). The number of moles is just a measure of how many atoms or molecules you have and is sometimes more convenient to use than mass. The constant is different depending on the units you use for your pressure (atm, Torr, Pa). If you keep the number of moles constant and remove n and R (you can do this with constants as long as you change the equals sign to a proportion), the relation is then Pressure times Volume is proportional to the Temperature.

This means that as temperature decreases, the pressure and/or volume decrease and vice-versa. According to this, you can either cool the helium to liquid or decrease the volume. Decreasing the volume most of the time means applying pressure.
Answered by: Travis Rappleye, Chemistry Undergrad, San Jose State University


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