Development soap with magnetic properties

Development of soap with magnetic properties

10:54 PM, 9th February 2012
Development of soap with magnetic properties
Soap with magnetic properties could calm concerns over the use of soaps in oil-spill clean ups and revolutionise industrial cleaning products.

BRISTOL, UK: Scientists from the University of Bristol have developed soap, composed of iron rich salts dissolved in water that responds to a magnetic field when placed in solution. The soap’s magnetic properties were proved with neutrons at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) to result from tiny iron-rich clumps that sit within the watery solution. The generation of this property in a fully functional soap could calm concerns over the use of soaps in oil-spill clean ups and revolutionise industrial cleaning products.

The team at Bristol, led by Julian Eastoe, Professor, University of Bristol produced their magnetic soap by dissolving iron in a range of inert surfactant materials composed of chloride and bromide ions, very similar to those found in everyday mouthwash or fabric conditioner. The addition of the iron creates metallic centre within the soap particles.

To test its properties, the team introduced a magnet to a test tube containing their new soap lying beneath a less dense organic solution. When the magnet was introduced the iron-rich soap overcame both gravity and surface tension between the water and oil, to levitate through the organic solvent and reach the source of the magnetic energy, proving its magnetic properties.

Once the surfactant was developed and shown to be magnetic, Professor Eastoe’s team took it to the Institut Laue-Langevin to investigate the science behind its remarkable property. When surfactants are added to water they are known to form tiny clumps. Scientists at ILL used a technique called neutron scattering to confirm that it was this clumping of the iron-rich surfactant that brought about its magnetic properties.

“The particles of surfactant in solution are too small to see using light but are easily revealed by neutron scattering which we use to investigate the structure and behaviour of all types of materials at the atomic and molecular scale,” said Dr Isabelle Grillo, Head of the Chemistry Lab, ILL. The potential applications of magnetic surfactants are huge. Their responsiveness to external stimuli allows a range of properties, such as their electrical conductivity, melting point, the size and shape of aggregates and how readily its dissolves in water to be altered by a simple magnetic on and off switch. These factors are key to the effective application of soaps in a variety of industrial settings, could only be controlled.

“As most magnets are metals, from a purely scientific point of view these ionic liquid surfactants are highly unusual, making them a particularly interesting discovery. From a commercial point of view, though these exact liquids aren’t yet ready to appear in any household product, by proving that magnetic soaps can be developed, future work can reproduce the same phenomenon in more commercially viable liquids for a range of applications from water treatment to industrial cleaning products,” said Professor  Eastoe.

© University of Bristol News

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