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In scientific research, the behavior of the two fluid phases of helium-4 (helium I and helium II) is important to researchers studying quantum mechanics (in particular the property of superfluidity) and to those looking at the phenomena, such as superconductivity, produced in matter near absolute zero.

It was first detected as an unknown yellow spectral line signature in sunlight during a solar eclipse in 1868 by Georges Rayet, Janssen is often jointly credited with detecting the element along with Norman Lockyer.

Janssen recorded the helium spectral line during the solar eclipse of 1868 while Lockyer observed it from Britain.

Lockyer was the first to propose that the line was due to a new element, which he named.

Hillebrand, however, attributed the lines to nitrogen.

In 1907, Ernest Rutherford and Thomas Royds demonstrated that alpha particles are helium nuclei by allowing the particles to penetrate the thin glass wall of an evacuated tube, then creating a discharge in the tube to study the spectra of the new gas inside.

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