Gibbons who inhale helium sing like sopranos. Researchers looked at the vocal cords of gibbons that had inhaled helium and saw that they could control their vocal tracts in the same way that soprano singers can – this was thought to to be unique to humans. See the original research in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Helium is a natural gas that cannot be synthesised, and it is vital for MRI scanners and radiation monitors. There is a helium shortage worldwide, and it could run out in 25-30 years. Because of a US law passed in 1996, according to Robert Richardson, professor of physics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, helium became too cheap to recycle, and was no longer regarded as precious.  Professor Richardson believes that our reserves of helium have been “squandered”.

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