17th Jun 2012

Magnetic Soap

A research team at the University of Bristol have worked on soaps sensitive to light, carbon dioxide, changes in pH, temperature, and pressure, but this time they’ve really struck gold—well, iron. They’ve produced the world’s first magnetic soap. It’s made by dissolving iron particles in water that contains chloride and bromide ions, which are materials commonly found in household items like mouthwash and fabric conditioner. While investigating on a sub-atomic level, researchers found that the iron particles were not only joining the soap molecules, but were also clumping together to form iron nanoparticles, and these metallic centres were strong enough to react to a magnetic field just like iron filings would. In tests where this new metallic soap was mixed in with an organic solution, a magnetic attraction was able to overcome both gravity and surface tension to lift the soap right out. Because of this, the soap possibly has a future as a pollution-controlling detergent—for example, in oil spill clean ups. After the iron-laced soap dissolves harmful oils, it can simply be lifted right out of a sensitive environment by manipulating its magnetic properties, minimising further environmental impact.

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