2 min read

‘Hey, turn off the Helium it’s bad for my iPhone’ is not something you hear every day. In an unusual event at a facility, this month, an MRI machine affected iPhones and Apple watches.

In a facility, many iPhone users started to experience issues with their devices. The devices stopped working. Originally an EMP burst was suspected to shut down the devices. But it was noted that only iPhone 6 and above, Apple Watch series 0 and above were affected. The only iPhone 5 in the building and Android phones remained functional. Luckily none of the patients reported any issue.

The reason found was a new MEMS oscillator used in the newer affected devices. These tiny devices are used to measure time and can work properly only in certain conditions like a vacuum or a specific gas surrounding the piece. Helium being a sneaky one atom gas, can get through the tiniest of crevices.

An MRI machine was being installed and in the process, the coolant, Helium leaked. Approximately 120 liters of Helium leaked in the span of 5 hours. Helium expands hundreds of times when it turns to gas from liquid, with a boiling point of around −268 °C it did so in room temperature. You could say a large part of a building could be flooded with the gas given 120 liters.

Apple does mention it in their official iPhone help guide: “Exposing iPhone to environments having high concentrations of industrial chemicals, including near evaporating liquified gasses such as helium, may damage or impair iPhone functionality.

So what if your device is affected? Apple also mentions: “If your device has been affected and shows signs of not powering on, the device can typically be recovered. Leave the unit unconnected from a charging cable and let it air out for approximately one week. The helium must fully dissipate from the device, and the device battery should fully discharge in the process. After a week, plug your device directly into a power adapter and let it charge for up to one hour. Then the device can be turned on again.

The original poster on Reddit, harritaco even performed an experiment and posted it on YouTube. Although much doesn’t happen in the video of 8 minutes, he says to have repeated it for 12 minutes and the phone turned off.

For more details and discussions, visit the Reddit thread.

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