Policy Analysis

DCMP Chair-Elect Promotes APS Helium Initiatives at Congressional Hearing

July 15, 2015

William Halperin during testimony
Photo: Karen Sullivan

Professor Halperin during his testimony.

“For many scientists, including me, liquid helium is our professional lifeblood,” stated William Halperin, professor of physics at Northwestern University and chair-elect of APS’s Division of Condensed Matter Physics, during his testimony to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

Halperin was joined by four other witnesses – Anne-Marie Fennell (U.S. Government Accountability Office); David Joyner (Air Liquide); Walter Nelson (Air Products & Chemicals); and Tim Spisak (Bureau of Land Management) – who testified during the subcommittee’s July 8 oversight hearing on The Helium Stewardship Act and the Path Forward.

The Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 (Act) averted the pending shutdown of the Federal Helium Reserve and allowed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to continue to manage its operations until 2021, the new date established for the reserve’s permanent closure. The act also aimed to develop a competitive domestic helium market, but two years after it was signed into law, there are questions surrounding BLM’s implementation and interpretation of the act.

While the hearing was mostly focused on how BLM can improve and expand competition in the domestic helium market, Halperin informed the committee on the importance of liquid helium to the scientific community, the community’s concerns regarding its availability, and steps APS is taking to help academic researchers. Briefly, his testimony highlighted:
  • The impacts of helium’s volatility, both in price and availability, on the scientific community.
  • The early success of the helium brokerage APS launched via a partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the American Chemical Society (ACS). The program has produced savings for all enrollees and helped some researchers gain access to liquid helium for the first time.
  • The need for academics to reduce their helium demand going forward. APS, ACS and the Materials Research Society are beginning a joint study aimed at determining the best path forward for transitioning as many academic researchers as possible to systems that recycle and reliquefy helium.
  • The benefits in keeping the Federal Helium Reserve open beyond 2021, noting the impact to the research community could be immeasurable.

Halperin’s testimony can be read in full here.

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) showed particular interest in Halperin’s message, using all of her initial five-minute allotment for questions to follow-up on his testimony. Lummis’ questions enabled Halperin to further discuss the importance of stability in both price and supply of liquid helium for the scientific community.

The APS Office of Public Affairs continues to lead efforts to help alleviate the issues academic researchers face with liquid helium procurement. For more information on the liquid helium brokerage or other APS activities concerning liquid helium, please contact Mark Elsesser, APS senior policy analyst, elsesser@aps.org

Policy news and viewpoints for the physics community. The analysis and opinions are those of the APS Office of Public Affairs and do not necessarily represent the entire Society.