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  • Shrishti Basu

Ferrofluid: a Happy Mistake

Ferrofluid is parallel to the stuff we have seen in science fiction films. Originally developed by NASA as a type of space fuel, this invention has been making its way into the world of healthcare.

This extraordinary fluid is composed of three parts: magnetic nano particles like iron oxide (Fe2O3), a special coating that restricts the constituent particles from clumping together, and a water or oil-based liquid. When these fluids are subjected to a magnetic field, they form peculiar spikes or needles. As the name implies, ferrofluid contains ferric, also known as iron, which is a magnetic metal, enabling the ferrofluid to be moved with only a magnet and no other form of assistance. Ferrofluids stain easily and can stain skin, glass, and even ceramic surfaces. However, apart from that, another intriguing property of ferrofluid is its protracted stability. This is attributable to the fact that the solid particles within them do not bio accumulate or isolate due to gravity.

In the early 1960s, a NASA engineer named Steve Papell devised the Ferrofluid. His vision was that if micro particles were added to fuel, it could be shifted around with no gravity but a magnetic field. However this vision certainly didn't come true, this fluid did open up avenues in the scientific world. Ferrofluids have so far been used in speakers, hard drives, skateboards, and other devices. Despite the fact that it is already widely used, the use of ferrofluid in biomedicine is what makes it interesting.

Scientists like Thomas Webster, Director of the Northeastern University Nanomedicine Laboratory, are investigating how ferrofluid can kill cancer cells, fight drug-resistant infections, and help neurons communicate with one another. Ferrofluids are also being studied for their potential use in tumour treatment. The plan is to inject them into the tumour and use magnetic fields to tear it apart. These are just a few of the research topics being pursued on this fascinating invention. Ferrofluids have also been seen in a number of music videos. Pendulum, for example, used ferrofluid in the music video for the track Watercolour. Magnetic fluids are also gaining popularity as a creative medium. Some art and science museums have dedicated exhibits to these amazing liquids.

Isn't it funny how an invention that failed to realize the vision it was aiming for has become so useful in our daily lives? Perhaps Bob Ross's quote, "we don't make mistakes; we just have happy accidents" is correct...

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