Application of a magnet forces the magnetic soap (on bottom of test tube on right) to rise, overcoming surface tension and gravity. The magnet has no effect on ordinary soap (left). (Bristol University)
Scientists have created the world’s first magnetic soap. As Living on Earth’s Mary Bates reports, when exposed to a magnetic field, the soap, dirt or oil will dissolve.
GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Coming up: the skies are no longer the limit for conservation drones. But first, this Note on Emerging Science from Mary Bates.
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BATES: Soap helps make things less sticky. But now scientists have turned things upside down and created sticky soap, by making it magnetic.
A team of scientists from Bristol University in England has created the world’s first magnetic soap. They did so by dissolving iron-rich salts in water and ordinary soapy solutions, the same types found in mouthwash and fabric softener. To test it, the researchers put the soap in a test tube beneath layers of water and an oily substance. When a magnet was placed near the test tube, the soap overcame both gravity and surface tension and rose above the other layers.
To understand how this worked on a molecular level, researchers sent soap samples to an institute in France to undergo a procedure called neutron scattering. Beams of neutrons were fired at the soap, revealing that the iron particles were clumping together and forming tiny metallic centers inside the soap particles. Individual iron atoms aren’t large enough to respond to a magnetic field, but these clumps fit the bill.
When exposed to a magnetic field, this new soap can be easily removed, along with the dirt or oil it has dissolved. This could provide a way of cleaning up oil spills without leaving polluting chemicals behind. Researchers hope that with further development, magnetic soap will be one less reason to cry over spilt oil. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science; I’m Mary Bates.
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