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Somewhere in the 60s, scientists at NASA were trying to find out ways of controlling liquid substance in space. The only thing possible was to create a magnetic fluid, which would respond to a magnetic field, and thus enable control. The result of this research was the creation of ferrofluid, which had extremely tiny magnetic solid particles suspended in a medium of liquid.
The solid particles had to be very small measuring less than 10 nano meters in diameter, to remain suspended and avoid agglomeration due to magnetic interaction. Apart from the tiny size, a surfactant was also necessary to keep the particles apart. A surfactant generates electrostatic or steric repulsion between particles that are magnetic, and keeps them apart in the ferrofluid.
Generally, oleic acid is used as the surfactant, but substances like citric acid, soy lecithin and many other compounds are also used. The magnetic particles are some form of iron compound, but usually hematite or magnetite is used. Water can be used as the liquid medium, however many people prefer to use kerosene. A ferrofluid will typically consist of 5% magnetic particles, 10% surfactant and the rest will be the liquid medium.
Ferroliquid is a unique substance having the fluidity of a liquid and the magnetic property of a solid. Depending on the strength of the magnetic field that is applied, the magnetic particles will randomly align, and change the liquid medium’s density. Since each drop of the liquid is susceptible to the magnetic field there is bonding taking place on a nanoscale. Secondly, ferrofluid has the property to reduce friction and reflect light as well.
These characteristic makes ferrofluid quite useful, and it has varied applications. It is quite commonly used in a hard drive, as a sealant around the rotating shaft, so that debris is prevented from entering the inside compartment. Due to its property of reducing friction, ferrofluid is used as a lubricant in devices, to make a magnet glide effortlessly across surfaces. Another common use is in loudspeakers, where the liquid dampens the cone movement, and reduces heat in the voice coil.
This fascinating fluid is also used in treating cancer, as it can release heat after entering a cancer cell, when an alternating field of magnetism is applied. NASA of course uses ferrofluid in the control system of a spacecraft. The fluid is kept in a closed loop, and a magnetic field is applied, to alter the momentum of the craft at an angle, which helps in controlling its rotation. Ferrofluid is also a fun substance and can be used to create various art forms. Certain museums create fantastic displays by using ferrofluid under magnetic influence to swirl around in varied shapes and formations.