Scientists Say: Ferrofluid | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Ferrofluid

This is a fluid that responds to magnetic fields
Jun 24, 2019 — 6:30 am EST
a spiky flower-like sculpture created by a magnet placed under a ferrofluid

This isn’t a flower — it’s a ferrofluid! These liquids, which contain tiny iron particles, naturally form peaks and valleys when a magnet is placed below them.

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Ferrofluid (noun, “FAIR-oh-flu-id”)

This is a fluid with tiny magnetic particles floating in it. The fluid can be water, oil or something else. The particles need to contain iron or another element — such as cobalt or nickel — that act like a magnet. In fact, “ferro-“ is Latin for iron (which has the chemical symbol “Fe”). The engineer Steve Papell invented the first ferrofluid in the 1960s.

When a ferrofluid is placed near a magnet, the magnet attracts the iron-containing particles. This causes the whole liquid to become magnetic. And this makes ferrofluids useful in many industries. Ferrofluids are used as liquid seals to keep dust out of computer hardrives. They can also be used in loudspeakers to help keep them cool. Researchers are even exploring whether ferrofluids can carry medicines to hard-to-reach places inside the body.

In a sentence

Scientists hope they could one day use a ferrofluid to help clean up oil spills.

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Power Words

(more about Power Words)

compound     (often used as a synonym for chemical) A compound is a substance formed when two or more chemical elements unite (bond) in fixed proportions. For example, water is a compound made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H2O.

element  A building block of some larger structure. (in chemistry) Each of more than one hundred substances for which the smallest unit of each is a single atom. Examples include hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, lithium and uranium.

ferrofluid     (also magnetic fluid) A liquid that responds to a magnetic field because magnetic particles have been mixed into it. The prefix, ferro , means iron and refers to the fact that magnetic materials contain iron.

iron     A metallic element that is common within minerals in Earth’s crust and in its hot core. This metal also is found in cosmic dust and in many meteorites.

liquid     A material that flows freely but keeps a constant volume, like water or oil.

magnet     A material that usually contains iron and whose atoms are arranged so they attract certain metals.

magnetic field  An area of influence created by certain materials, called magnets, or by the movement of electric charges.

particle     A minute amount of something.