The Craziest Thing: Helium Gas Killing a Cell Phone

By JR Sanchez, Service Engineer - MR/NucMed

As told by JR Sanchez:

In 2019, I performed my first MRI Shimming. I was 12 hours away from home when my phone died unexpectedly. I knew something was off since my phone had been on the charger. When we were done, I could not get my phone to turn on, no matter what I did. The drive home the next day was harder than usual because I had no GPS. I had printed instructions, but I missed a couple of exits because I didn’t have a voice telling me my every move.

When I got back to corporate, my phone got exchanged for a new one and I was told to take care of it. By this time, I didn’t have a good track record on taking care of phones. Side note, I actually do take care of my phones; I just happened to have a couple of bad experiences.

The following week, I was helping with another shimming, and guess what? My phone died again. Since I was doing the shim at our DSC lot, my supervisor said to just use his new phone sitting on his desk. That phone died that same day. We concluded that the sim card was probably causing the problems and decided to order another phone with a new sim card. That phone worked perfectly for two weeks, so we concluded that the new sim card and phone combination was the solution. However, this conclusion didn’t hold up. After doing a helium fill with another employee, both of our phones died. His phone was in a separate room charging and since the magnet was not ramped up, I was recording the fill. Neither of us could believe that both of our phones had done the same thing.

That next day I received a call from the same employee whose phone had died at the same time as mine. He said a friend of his had read an article that described how helium affects a cell phone internal clock, causing it to die. Helium only affects the MEMS-based clocks found in cell phones. However, this effect only lasts three days; after that, the phone will work like before. Now, every time I work on an MRI that will need to be venting gas, I leave my phone in my truck, and carry an extra one just in case.

Who knew that helium could completely kill a cell phone? I’m happy we finally figured out the issue or my track record with phones would have gotten even worse! And many Numed employees would have been left without a phone after every shim and helium fill.