At the end of the day, I stopped by the Chemistry Department at KU to meet up with a great customer of mine for a little NMR-focused tour of the campus. One of the highlights of the tour (besides all the Bruker NMR!) was this little gem:
(that's my customer, Justin)
This is a plaque commemorating the discovery of terrestrial helium!!! According to Justin, about 100 years ago some guys found a vein of what they thought was natural gas but it wouldn't catch on fire. They took it to KU for analysis and what happened next was VERY EXCITING! According to the plaque, in this hall in 1905, Hamilton P. Cady and David F. McFarland analyzed the sample of natural gas from Dexter, Kansas (and subsequently many other samples) discovering that "helium, previously thought to be rare on the earth but abundant on the sun, was available in plentiful quantities from the Great Plains of the United States."
Without liquid helium, super conducting magnets (and NMR... and my job!) would not exist. It's pretty amazing how some random dudes looking to hit it rich from natural gas back in 1905 had a somewhat indirect but very significant impact on my life in 2012.
Life works in funny ways :-)