MRI-scan

In the Real World

Aside from being used to create stunning sculptures, ferrofluid also has exciting real world applications. A major benefit of ferrofluid is that the liquid can be forced to flow via the positioning and strength of the magnetic field and so the ferrofluid can be positioned very precisely. Ferrofluids also have the capability of reducing friction, making them useful in a variety of electronic and transportation applications.

NASA first developed ferrofluids in the 1960’s whilst researching methods of using liquids in space, but in the 21st century ferrofluid has found new levels of fame. In recent years, ferrofluid has also become somewhat of a YouTube sensation, due to the fantastical shapes that it can create simply using a magnetic field.

For example, ferrofluids can be used in hydraulic suspension pistons, with the strength of the magnetic field allowing the suspension to be hard or soft depending on what is necessary.

It can also be used as a liquid seal in many electronic devices. For example, in computer hard-drives ferrofluid can be used to form a seal around the rotating shaft. Furthermore, it can be used in loudspeakers to improve performance.

Ferrofluids could be used to keep us safe too: new body armour is being developed by MIT which utilises ferrofluid in hollow fibres. This body armour could act as a artificial splint in the heat of battle.

Ferrofluids also have medical applications and it is hoped that these will increase in the future. Two examples of on-going research related to ferrofluids are:

  • Carrying medications to exact locations within the body
  • Use as a contrasting agent for MRI scans

Currently, research on using ferrofluids to create an artificial heart with no mechanical parts is being undertaken by Suprock Technologies. By surrounding the heart with magnets, the ferrofluid fixed to frame of the heart will expand and contract when needed, imitating the pumping of the real thing. If developed correctly this system may be a better option than current heart assist devices because they do not have moving parts, meaning there will be less stress on the heart and they will also be cheaper.

Further disparate fields in which ferrofluids can be used are:

  • Heat transfer
  • Analytical instrumentation
  • Art
  • Aerospace

We are only just discovering the full potential of ferrofluids and we are now opening up a world of opportunity that will hopefully continue to grow rapidly in the next decade.

 

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