Friday, November 2, 2018

iPhones don't like helium

I heard a little about this story from Reddit, but I am impressed with iFixit's article about the whole situation. Long story short, someone noticed that specific kinds of iPhones did not work in the presence of a newly installed MRI, and the overall story is really quite remarkable: 
This is the kind of tale that you don’t hear every day.  Erik Wooldridge is a Systems Specialist at Morris Hospital near Chicago. During the installation of a new GE Healthcare MRI machine, he started getting calls that cell phones weren’t working. Then, some Apple Watches started glitching. 
“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? 
I’ve seen a lot of strange glitches in my time, and I’ve never heard of something like this. Neither had Erik. “The behavior of the devices was pretty odd. Most of them were completely dead. I plugged them in to the wall and had no indication that the device was charging. The other devices that were powering on seemed to have issues with the cellular radio. The wifi connection was consistent and fast, but cellular was very hit or miss.” 
That’s when he posted the issue to Reddit, where other sysadmins speculated that it might be caused by the liquid helium used to cool the MRI machine. So he investigated, and found there was a helium leak at the same time that vented into the building.
It's quite a detective piece, and they were able to come up with a nice hypothesis and test it. Cool story, read the whole thing.  

1 comment:

  1. its a common problem with all new iPhones and iPads, apparently Apple changed the internal oscillators on their chips, it causes a nasty crash that takes the phone/mac at least one week to recover from - apparently not only the He has to leak out from the chip but also the battery has to completely drain before auto-reset and reboot can take place. I wonder if anyone tried to physically disconnect the battery, to see if the crash recovery happened faster.

    This is rather important thing to know, if you help with liq. He fill up on NMR magnet, as I have done many times before.

    Also, I wonder, does hydrogen cause the same glitch? Lots of people would release leftover hydrogen from a balloon into the lab. In the past, I noticed that emptying H2 ballon in our large cavernous lab reliably triggered the solvent leak detectors in Helios GPCs

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