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The term ferro fluid refers to a liquid made of microscopic, ferromagnetic particles which acquires a powerful magnetism in the presence of another magnetic field. The particles are known as nanoparticles because of their extremely small size. These fluids are artificially produced in industrial settings. Each particle receives a coating of surfactant. This is a special compound that reduces surface tension and inhibits clumping among the ferromagnetic particles. The particles have a tendency to remain evenly spread throughout the fluid and resist settling. There are many types of applications for these fluids.
One extremely critical use for these fluids is in computer hard disks. Manufacturers use the fluid to form a liquid seal around the rotating drive shafts in these disks. This fluid is placed between the shaft and the surrounding magnets, which hold the fluid in place. The barriers created by these fluids keep the interior areas free of debris that might enter from the outside. It only takes a very small amount of fluid to make this happen.
Medical researchers have found a place for ferro fluid in medicine as well. Magnetic resonance imaging machines, also known as MRI machines, need patients to imbibe contrast agents in order to effectively view the interior of a body. Ferro fluids are particularly good contrast agents for MRI imaging. Doctors also use these fluids to detect cancer. An innovative and still unapproved treatment for cancer uses ferro fluids. The treatment is called magnetic hyperthermia and it relies on the fluids special capacity for releasing heat through its alternating field of magnetism.
Heat transfer is a very important application for ferro fluids because of the great need for this sort of technology in many modern devices. While many devices count on ventilation to extract heat from their systems, not all can do this adequately, especially in miniatures and in reduced gravity. As an example, ferro fluids are widely used to remove heat from voice coils in loudspeakers. As the fluid heats up, it becomes less magnetic due to the restrictions of Curie’s law. Magnets in or near voice coils in loudspeakers attract cold ferro fluid toward the heated voice coil. When this fluid heats up, it moves away and is replaced by colder fluid. This happens with no additional energy input.
There are many other possible applications for ferro fluid in various parts of industry and commerce. While the idea is very innovative and hi-tech, some of the required elements are quite mundane. The surfactants that limit the surface tension of the nanoparticles are often just oleic acid or soy lecithin, which occur naturally in animal and vegetable fats. The simplicity of this fluid and its great usefulness ensures it continued application.