Why a helium leak disabled every Apple iPhone in a medical facility

“An IT worker at a medical facility made a remarkable discovery about iPhones and Apple watches earlier this month, after a freshly installed MRI machine appeared to disable every iOS device in the hospital,” Daniel Oberhaus reports for Motherboard.

“As detailed in a post on the r/sysadmin subreddit, Eric Woolridge, a system administrator at Morris Hospital in Illinois, was flooded with calls on October 8 after several iPhones owned by hospital employees all stopped working for no discernible reason. At the time, the hospital was having a new MRI machine installed, which is used to make high resolution scans of the brain,” Oberhaus reports. “When Woolridge did a tour of the facility, he discovered the issue was isolated to about 40 Apple phones, tablets, and watches. Android phones were just fine, as was the rest of the computer equipment at the facility.”

“As Woolridge later discovered, the MRI installation involves supercooling the giant magnet in the machine by boiling off liquid helium. This evaporated helium is usually pumped out of the facility through a vent, but this vent was leaking the helium into the rest of the facility,” Oberhaus reports. “Woolridge ran some tests of his own to see if helium could shut down an iPhone.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: iFixit has a detailed explanation of this here.

15 Comments

  1. I know this is a serious problem, but I just can’t help imagining all the high pitched chatter between all the iOS devices in the hospital until they pass out laughing.

    1. Read the iFixit article and they state it’s likely the tiny clock chip developed for the size constraints. All the other devices in the facility did not have the issue.

      Certainly not the first time form cause problems for function on Apple stuff.

      1. Thank you Captain Obvious.

        I think the original poster (for those who have the capacity to see beyond the obvious) meant that the hospital was lucky that there wasn’t a lethal amount of helium that could have killed people passed through the poor ventilation. Or, wait for it, they were lucky that a highly lethal chemical wasn’t passed through the system rather than a non lethal amount of helium if said system is used for other things besides this one task.

        1. Context matters, Captain Paranoid.

          OMG! Like, could you imagine the entire tank leaking, the hospital sending an emergency text that only Android users and their large phones received. What a f*cking nightmare!

  2. Under normal circumstances, relatively few people will ever encounter significant concentrations of helium. The chemical and oil and gas industries seem like the most likely avenues.

    I wonder if some type of conformal coating could be used to reduce the sensitivity of the MEMS components to contaminants? Perhaps the coating could serve double-duty as a moisture barrier, as well, to enhance the iPhone’s water resistance.

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