Helium Bricked My iPhone

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Helium Bricked My iPhone

Postby toucana on November 1st, 2018, 4:32 am 

A strange story has recently come to light which indicates that Apple iOS devices can be disabled or even damaged beyond repair by exposure to helium.


The story as originally reported by iFixit first came to light when a systems specialist at a hospital near Chicago received reports that a large number of iPhones and Apple watches had stopped working just after a new MRI scanner was installed at the facility.
My immediate thought was that the MRI must have emitted some sort of EMP, in which case we could be in a lot of trouble.” But an electromagnetic pulse would have taken out medical equipment in the facility as well, and they were working fine! He started investigating, and learned that every single impacted device was made by Apple—the technician’s Android phones were fine. And it was a wide-sweeping issue, impacting 40 different devices. What the heck?

Discussions with other sysadmins on a Reddit forum raised the possibility that exposure to the liquid helium used to cool superconducting magnets in MRI scanners might be to blame. A investigation at the hospital showed that a leak of some 120 litres of liquid helium over a period of five hours had taken place during the installation of the new MRI unit when technicians were ramping down the temperature of a newly installed magnet. Helium expands about 750 times when it expands from liquid to gas, so that’s a lot of helium (90,000 litres of gaseous He) being vented to the atmosphere within the facility.

Some further triage and testing which included sealing iPhones within bags that were then filled with helium gas appear to confirm that helium is the problem. Newer iPhones (iPhone 6 and upwards) stop working after about 4 minutes and the touch screen displays of recent Apple watches became unresponsive. Some devices recovered after a few days, others did not. Android devices were unaffected.

Suspicion is now focused on a particular type of MEMS chip manufactured by the SiT512 company that has recently been widely deployed by Apple in its iOS devices. An MEMS (micro electromechanical system) of this type uses a small damped timing oscillator rather than a quartz crystal oscillator, and it seems that the hermetic seals on the MEMS chip are helium permeable and that the stray helium can effectively stop the clock function on the MEMS.

Chip manufacturers are apparently aware of the issue, and Apple support do have some relevant advice (if you look hard enough). But meanwhile if you happen to be an MRI technician, you might want to consider using an Android phone instead
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