Ferrofluid, Ferrofluids, Ferromagnetic Fluid, Magnetic Liquid Iron, Magnetic Ferrofluid

A ferrofluid is a stable colloidal suspension of sub-domain magnetic particles in a liquid carrier. The particles are about 100 Angstroms in size, and are coated with a surfactant to keep the particles from clumping together (even when a magnetic field is applied). By volume, a ferrofluid is about 5% magnetic solids, 10% surfactant, and 85% carrier.

ferrofluidsWhen no external magnetic field is present, the magnetic moments of the particles are random, and the fluid is not magnetic.

When an external magnetic field is applied, the magnetic moments of the particles orient themselves almost instantly to the magnetic field lines of the external source. When the magnetic field is removed, the particles go back to random alignment very quickly.

Ferrofluid is used in many industrial applications. Many kinds of loudspeakers are damped with ferrofluid. If you own a CD or DVD player, the laser head most likely has a drop of ferrofluid in there to damp it. It’s used in sensors and switches, and for testing magnetic audio, video and data media (floppy discs, etc.) Some new bridges in windy or earthquake-prone zones use a thicker version of ferrofluid to damp movement. When the wind starts the bridge swaying, large magnets in the structure come closer to each other, and since ferrofluid gets thicker (more dense) in a magnetic field, it stops the bridge motion.

Ferrofluid is absolutely diverse. Applications of ferrofluid can be seen in fields like Medicines, Electronics Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Spacecraft Porpulsion, Material Science, analytical instrumentations, heat transfer, Optics and many more.

A ferrofluid will always tend to move to the region of highest flux. This can create some VERY interesting patterns when magnets of different shapes are used!

Ferrofluid Safety Information

Ferrofluid is not inherently dangerous or toxic. However, it is NOT for children! It stains skin, clothing and tabletops, and is very difficult to wash off. Wear latex gloves when handling it, and DON’T splash it in your eyes (it would be wise to wear safety goggles too when handling it). Since it is ferociously attracted to large magnets, use caution and think about what you are doing. If you let a strong magnet snap to the bottom of your dish of ferrofluid, you will get a ferrofluid shower (hope you wore those goggles…) Use dishes that are disposable….plastic petri dishes are great.

FerrofluidIf you bring a strong magnet anywhere near ferrofliud, the fluid will LEAP right out of the dish or bottle onto the magnet….and you will NEVER be able to remove it from the magnet!!! In our photo shoot, this happened a couple times — the ferrofluid crept right over the edge of the dish.

Ferrofluid is somewhat volatile — it evaporates. We chose the type that we have for sale because of its lower volatility — but after 48 hours of sitting out, the fancy patterns in our petri dish have reduced by more than half in volume. If you keep your bottle and your experiments sealed from air, they will last much longer.

Homemade ferrofluid

It is possible to make ferrofluid, but it’s very difficult to make GOOD ferrofluid. The magnetic particles must be EXACTLY the right size. If they are too big, the particles will come out of suspension when the magnetic field is applied. If they are too small, it won’t work at all. Search Google for some ideas — some we have seen used burnt steel wool for iron oxide. Plain iron filings in vegetable oil with dish soap do NOT work — we tried it! The best homemade ferrfluid that we’ve read about was made using iron-containing solutions, and the particles were precipitated out to make them the right size.

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