Krypton is an element found primarily in our atmosphere and in lesser amounts in meteorites and minerals. This noble gas is considered somewhat rare but is still found in many applications, including in medical and lighting applications. Krypton also has an unusual history; it was once used as the standard by which a meter was defined.
Krypton in Medicine
Krypton is used in different forms for many applications in the medical industry. Krypton lasers are commonly employed for laser eye surgery. The laser is used to help prevent blood clotting in the eye as surgery is performed. The laser can be tuned so precisely that only the target area is affected, leaving surrounding tissue unharmed. Krypton has also been used in medical research to trace how gasses, such as tobacco smoke, spread and settle in the lungs.
Krypton in Testing for Leaks
An isotope of krypton, kr85, is also used to test for leaks in medical implants, like heart shunts, as well as sensors and other delicate devices. The sealed implant is placed in a chamber where it is exposed to kr85 gas. An X-ray test is then performed to see if any of the gas managed to make it into the device, which would indicate a leak. The kr85 isotope is particularly ideal for this sort of test, because X-ray tests can sense trace amounts of the isotope, illuminating even minuscule leaks.
Krypton in Lighting
Perhaps the most common use of krypton is in lighting. Combined with argon and neon, krypton is used to make red-orange florescent lights. These lights are often in places that need to be seen at a long distance, such as airports, because that wavelength of light is easier to see in inclement weather. When used alone, krypton gas is often a bright white color. The intensity of the light is so high that it is often used in high-speed photography. Krypton is also used in incandescent bulbs.
Historical Uses of Krypton
At one point, krypton was used to to determine the precise length of a meter. In 1960, scientists were still attempting to define universal standards for important measurements, such as the meter. At that time, they considered using elements to help. At the 11th meeting of the General Conference on Weights and Measures, it was decided that 1,650,763.73 wavelengths of krypton-86 would be used as the universal measurement of a meter. This definition of a meter stood until 1983.
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