Liquid Helium Program to Test Leveraged Buying Power of Small-scale Users

The American Physical Society (APS) and the American Chemical Society (ACS) have announced the formation of the Liquid Helium Program, which aims to ensure that academic researchers with federal grants have the opportunity to purchase small quantities of liquid helium as needed at competitive prices. Currently, big users, such as companies in the semiconductor industry, consume larger quantities and therefore get priority in pricing and delivery at the expense of academic researchers. “One individual user doesn’t really have any purchasing power because they’re buying such small quantities at each time,” says Mark Elsesser, a policy analyst at APS. “So the idea is to gather all of those users together and have them buy as a group.” The inability to obtain liquid helium can cause experiments and equipment to shut down prematurely, with possible loss of data or damage to instrumentation. Large scale industrial users are logically first on the delivery schedule, Elsesser says; by the time the academic researcher who ordered and paid for 100 liters of liquid helium gets his delivery at the end of the schedule, 20 or so liters of the liquid helium may already have evaporated. Currently, APS and ACS are inviting academic users of liquid helium with federal research grants who might be interested in being part of the pilot experiment to express their interest by email to either Elsesser ( or Ryan Davison of the ACS Office of Public Affairs ( The deadline for these informal applications is September 12, 2014. A small group of 10 to 15 of those who expressed interest will then be chosen for a one year collective buying experiment. The pilot program will work with the government’s Defense Logistics Agency as the central buyer to do the actual purchasing. The idea is to test the ability of a small group of academic researchers (10 to 15) spread across the country and using different amounts of liquid helium on their own schedules to coordinate their purchases to leverage their buying power. “We’re looking for diversity in location-the west coast the east coast, the midwest, the southeast-all over the place,” says Elsesser, “and we want various users in terms of need, also.” A researcher who is only using 100 liters or so every two or three weeks at random times might be at the low end (in terms of quantity) on the need scale, while a shared NMR user facility that purchases a larger amount of liquid helium on a regular basis to cool two or three magnets would be on the higher end. “What we want to do is have a variety so that we can test the system and determine who it’s best for,” Elsesser concludes. “After a year of testing we will know who we should open the program up to in terms of larger numbers.”

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