MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: Would it be accurate to say that helium has no chemical properties?

Date: Fri Sep 3 18:20:56 1999
Posted By: Greta Hardin, Secondary School Teacher, Science
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 936139679.Ch

Nope... it certainly would not be.  

Congratulations!  You have joined a long line of beginning scientists who 
have made this classic blunder.  No data does not mean no information.
I am pretty darn sure you are thinking of the fact that Helium does not 
react with anything, always seems to be a gas, can't be seen, smelled or 
tasted, and is altogether inert.  (Inert is a technical term for "it just 
sits there like a lump on a log and does nothing.")

Well all this nothingness is something.  These are the qualities that make 
helium, well, helium.  Chemical protperties are things like: what does it 
react with,  how easily does it react.  And since helieum doesn't react 
unless really really forced to... and even then not very well... that is its 
chemical property.  The fact that helium doesn't react is in fact a VERY 
important chemical property.  How many elements have THAT property?

It's physical properties are also pretty bland... but important for that 
very fact.  An element that is a gas even near absolute zero at normal 
pressures is pretty darn special.

So the thing that you need to remember here is that "no data" is still 
information.  For example: If you are an animal behaviourist and you are 
observing an animal.  If one day you find the animal, and all it does that 
day is lie there....  well that could lead to several ideas.  The animal is 
dead, sick, or very very tired... and further investigation would ensue.  If 
you were taking readings on an instrument an suddenly it quit giving you 
readings; time to investigate - did the machine break,  are the readings off 
the scale, is the electrode being eaten away by some unknown property of 
your mixture?  And how about astronomers.  How would they feel if one night 
the moon did nothing?  Just hung there in the sky and didn't move?  Believe 
me, there sure as heck wouldn't leave things at "from 7 pm to 5am the moon 
did nothing."

To bring things back  around to your original question... No it would not be 
correct to say Helium has no chemicals properties.  It would be closer to 
the mark to say, the main chemical property of helium as that is does 

I hope this points you towards inquiry... and can make an interesting 
discussion the next time a parent chides you about answering "what did you 
do in school today" with "nothing."

Good Luck

Greta Hardin

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