Results of the Survey

Northwestern University
January 21 to February 5, 2010

You may also download the results as a PDF.

The rare isotope of helium, 3He, has critical strategic importance.  One of it’s applications is to achieve low temperatures through refrigeration and measuring devices, mostly in the pursuit of fundamental knowledge, providing the essential building blocks for engineering and technology for our future.  Cryogenic use of 3He is critical in that there is no alternative to reaching a range of more than 4 orders of magnitude of temperature from 1 K to as low as 10-4 K.  Here basic scientific investigations require 3He for the study of quantum systems, including information technology, magnetism, and superconductivity.  Its recent short supply and extraordinary high price has posed serious problems for the scientific community.  The purpose of this survey was to document as accurately as possible world-wide use of 3He in the past ten years as a framework for future cryogenic allocations and to evaluate the impact of research that uses 3He.

The survey is restricted to senior or principal scientific investigators, who are representatives of their respective research groups.  The survey solicitation was sent to the e-mail list serves of the International Conference on Low Temperature Physics, LT25; the International Symposium on Quantum Fluids and Solids, QFS2009; a list of principal investigators using cryogenic 3He in their research grants from the National Science Foundation, the Program in Condensed Matter Physics; a list of principal investigators using cryogenic 3He in their research grants from the Department of Energy, the Program in Basic Energy Sciences.  These totaled approximately 2,300 including members of the communities including students, research associates, postdoctoral fellows, scientists, and finally, the principal or senior investigators who were asked, on behalf of their groups, to respond to the survey.

This survey and a copy of the results were posted at:

Survey Results:

Number of senior investigator respondents: 206
USA respondents: 98
Total  3He purchases, yearly average over ten years: 3,469  L/year
maintenance and samples gas from research groups: 1,141  L/year
new instruments (mostly refrigerators) from companies: 2,328  L/year
3He for cryogenic purposes purchase last year (2009): 3,828  L
Price of 3He last year, average (2009): 930  $/L

Scientific programs requiring cryogenic 3He (fraction of total):

Quantum Fluids and Solids 8 %
Superconductivity 24 %
Quantum Information 7 %
Mesoscopic Physics 12 %
Magnetism 12 %
Electronic Materials 10 %
Quantum Resonators 3 %
Quantum Transport 12 %
Refrigeration Instrumentation 8 %
Detector Instrumentation 3 %
Other 2 %
Graduate student training using cryogenic 3He, graduated in ten years: 3,349 students
Postdocs hired in ten years using cryogenic 3He: 2,322 postdocs
Research funding in ten years requiring cryogenic 3He: 2.65 billion $

Comments on growth in the cryogenic use of 3He:
Sufficient information in the responses was given to determine the following growth in requirements for cryogenic use of 3He.  Yearly increases in purchases for cryogenic 3He are 12% per year on average.  The increase in cost in the past three years has been approximately a factor of 4 to 5 on average.

2005 23 %
2006 - 1 %
2007 30 %
2008 - 20 %
2009 26 %
yearly average 12 %

Comments on impact from research that uses cryogenic 3He:
The significant impact of research that uses cryogenic 3He includes 335 graduate student PhD’s awarded per year and 232 postdoctoral fellows hired per year (numbers adjusted for response rates determined as described in b) below averaged over the past ten years).  Additionally, all theoretical work related to experimental research that uses cryogenic 3He would not have taken place without this range of temperature for quantum condensed systems, substantially increasing the student, staff, and funding impacts beyond that shown in this survey.

Reporting methodology:
a) The following nine companies provide cryogenic 3He instrumentation and  reported their sales of 3He, presented above in aggregate form: Bluefors, Chase Research Cryogenics, Cryomagnetics (including Cryoconcepts), Janis Research, Lakeshore Cryotronics, Leiden Cryogenics, Oxford Instruments, Quantum Design.
b) Purchases of 3He, not as a part of commercial instrumentation, made by individual research groups, reported above, were adjusted by a survey response fraction of 51%.  This fraction is defined by the USA pool and was assuned to be valid elsewhere in the world. The fraction is defined as the number of USA principal investigators responding to the survey divided by the total number of funded USA principal investigators identified by program mangers from the NSF/CMP and the DOE/BES.  Error in corrections for survey response rate is relatively small since 2/3 of the cryogenic 3He is purchased by the instrumentation companies for which we have an accurate total response.
c) The responses were examined one-by-one to avoid duplication and improper submission and to be sure that each submission represented only one research group.

Requesting 3He:
A request form for approval of an allocation of 3He can be obtained from Jack Faught at (908-329-9731, Linde Speciality gases, manager of the distribution program in the USA. Additionally, order forms can be found on the Isotope Program NIDC Website under at the URL This form should then be submitted to DOE and sent to Jack Faught at Linde.

Supply and demand (12/22/10):
Further discussion of the supply and demand for 3He can be found in the congressional report,

Click here to view an archived copy of the survey.