Field of Science

Strategic Reserves

President Bush recently announced that the strategic petroleum reserves would be breached to counter gasoline shortages in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Did you know that government maintains strategic reserves of other materials as well? The strategic helium reserves are kept in Amarillo, TX in a natural formation called the Bush Dome. The He reserve was created in 1925, when the major strategic use was military dirigibles. Helium extraction is incidental to methane (natural gas) production. These days helium is used in magnetic resonance imaging to cool the coils in the magnets so they will superconduct and other cryogenic applications. The reserve contains about 30 billion scm (an scm is a cubic meter at standard conditions -- not a square cubic meter as one report states!)

Camille Minichino visited the chemistry department at Bryn Mawr this week. She is the author of the Periodic Table mystery series. In her second book, The Helium Murder, physicist Gloria Lamerino suspects Congresswoman Hurley has been murdered because of her position on the sale of helium in the reserves.

Standard conditions for a gas are 298 K and 1 atmosphere of pressure.


  1. Hee--you looked it up. Glad somebody did!

  2. I'm still wondering if the "Bush Dome" is named for the Bushes of our presidency? I didn't spend long digging...but remain curious!!

  3. In the "Avenger" novel THE SMILING DOGS, there is a similar plot device (from Wikipedia):

    "A gang murders and schemes to control a remote Montana national park with resources (apparently helium) that will be vital in any upcoming war."

    This pulp novel was published in 1940. I would also like to mention that one of the Avenger's side kicks was a chemist.

  4. Standard temp for gases is 273 K while normal temp is 298. Standard temp for thermo values is typically 298 K. Gahhhh! Can't we all just get along?

    I'd love to know where these came from! I've done a little looking around and asking but have yet to find any explanation.

  5. Alan...good catch...yes, the standard temp is 273.15 Kfor gases, but most thermodynamic quantities are reported at 298 K. And indeed...why? I'll have to see what I can find out!


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