Helium - experiments with helium
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Helium Balloons

Balloons

You can see that helium is lighter than air by getting a helium balloon. When you let go of it, it goes up, because the helium is lighter than the nitrogen and oxygen and carbon dioxide that make up most of the air, so the helium floats, and it pulls the balloon with it.

breathing helium
Breathing helium from a balloon

You can also see that helium molecules are lighter than oxygen or carbon dioxide molecules by breathing in helium from a helium balloon and then saying something (But only try it once! It's not good for your brain cells. And do NOT breathe it straight from the tank, which can cause bubbles in your brain and kill you.). When you speak, you breathe out helium from your lungs along with the sound. Because sound can travel faster through thinner air, and the helium is lighter, or thinner, than regular air, the sound travels to your ears faster and so it sounds different, as if you were a mouse or a chipmunk.

Find out more about helium
More chemistry projects

Bibliography and further reading:

Helium
Atoms
Chemistry
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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Now that the weather's nice, try some of these outdoor activities! How about bicycle polo, or archery for a Medieval Islam day? Or kite flying or making a compass for a day in Medieval China? How about making a shaduf for a day in Ancient Egypt? Holding an Ancient Greek Olympic Games or a medieval European tournament? Building a Native American wickiup?