It may be time for Magneto to step aside and make room for a sidekick, because YouTuber and near-impossible-to-understand science explorer CrazyRussianHacker has some seriously neat magnetic tricks of his own — like the one in the above video using very X-Men-sounding ingredients neodymium and ferrofluid.
Although it’s a fairly common experiment, CrazyRussianHacker delivers an especially clear look at the strange and unique properties of ferrofluid with this particular demonstration, showing the interaction between the oil infused with nano-scale iron oxide particles and the magnetic field produced by the neodymium magnet. (Neodymium is an element that’s often used in especially powerful alloy magnets.)
The ferrofluid develops into that strange spiky pattern because of a confluence of physical interactions. The particles of iron oxide in the fluid (which is usually an organic solvent), are attracted to the magnetic field, tracing the field strength with peaks and valleys. This interaction of magnetic fields forces the liquid into columns, which are pulled and tightened by gravity and surface tension.
The beautifully fluid, yet geometrical movement of the ferrofluid is ultimately possible because the ferrofluid contains a “surfactant,” which is an organic compound that works as a molecular “glue” between the iron oxide particles and the oil in which they float. This means that even though the neodymium magnet tries to pull the iron oxide particles out of the oil, the oil sticks to the iron oxide particles, preventing them from being drawn out. The iron oxide particles can still move toward the magnet a bit however, and thusly pull the liquid into those conical shapes. (Michael Flynn’s video on this whole sequence is stellar.)
Due to its unique properties, ferrofluid is used in all sorts of mechanical gear like microphones, speakers, and motors, although evidently one of its best uses is as a killer party trick. Just don’t show it to Magneto; he may get jealous and start flipping cars.
What do you think about this demonstration of ferrofluid? Is it totally super-great-wow-number-one science experiment? Let us know you wow-so-cool thoughts in comments below!