Mind & Matter


Magnetic Soap

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A new soap developed by the University of Bristol responds to magnetic fields. Photo: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features

Magnetic materials are critical to many fields, including energy, electronics, and transportation. Now the principal of magnetism is demonstrating new potential in the cleanup of industrial pollutants. Scientists at the University of Bristol in England have developed a new surfactant—or soap—that includes a readily magnetized form of iron. This magnetic soap may be used to remove oil and dirt from a variety of substances, and the surfactant may be removed using only hand-held magnets. The researchers have already identified the ability to clean up oil spills and purify waste water as two critical future applications of the technology.

"We've uncovered a proof of principle, now we have to move on to applications," says University of Bristol professor Julian Eastoe. "Surfactants and emulsions have many uses from pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, food, fuel and lubricant additives, paints and inks as well as detergents and cleaning agents. Magnetic emulsions of the kind described in the submission have never before been applied."




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.