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Nanotechnology: ferrofluids and liquid crystals


  • To synthesize an aqueous ferrofluid (magnetite) and observe its properties.
  • To understand how nanotechnology affects everyday life.
  • To learn about surfactants and how they work.


  • Pre-Lab (10%)
  • Lab Report Form (80%)
  • TA Points (10%)

Background information

Nanotechnology is the science of controlling matter with dimensions between 1 and 100 nanometers. This includes manipulating individual molecules. It is a multidisciplinary field consisting of physics, biology, chemistry, medicine, engineering, and nearly any other applied science. The prefix nano- means ten to the minus ninth power, or one billionth. There have been great advances in nanotechnology in recent years, and scientists routinely make materials that are only a few nanometers in size, or about 1/80,000 the diameter of a human hair. See Figure 1 to notice how small a nanometer is compared to other common materials.

Materials at the nanoscale exhibit interesting optical, electronic, physical, and chemical properties due to their small size. For example, catalysis chemical reactions occur at the surface of bulk material so as particles become smaller, the ratio of the surface area to the volume of the particles increases, thereby making a volume of nanoparticle catalysts more reactive than an equal volume of bulk catalyst. Optical properties of bulk materials are not size dependant, that is no matter what the size of a piece of bulk material it will have the same optical properties. This is not the case for nanomaterials. As you will see in the instructor demo, different sizes of gold nanoparticles exhibit very different colors.

In the 1960s NASA Research Centers discovered fluids that could be controlled through the application of a magnetic field. These fluids were developed to confine liquids in space. These nanoparticle fluids are commonly known as ferrofluids and they are still an active area of research.

Ferrofluids have many current industrial applications. They are used to dampen vibration in audio loudspeakers, they can behave as liquid O-rings in rotating shaft seals, and they are used in high-speed computer disk drives to eliminate impurities. They also have many potential applications in biomedical, environmental, and engineering fields.

Figure 1-Obtained from Office of Basic Energy Sciences, US Department of Energy

A ferrofluid is a stable colloid suspension of magnetic nanoparticles in a liquid carrier. The nanoparticles are suspended throughout the liquid and have an average size of ~10 nm. It is critical that the nanoparticles are coated with surfactant to prevent the particles from aggregating together. The surfactants must be strong enough to prevent agglomeration even when a magnetic field is applied and they must overcome the intermolecular forces between the nanoparticles. For this reason, a typical ferrofluid contains 5% magnetic nanoparticles, 10% surfactant, and 85% carrier fluid by volume.

There are two basic steps in creating a ferrofluid: synthesis of the magnetic solid, magnetite ( Fe 3 O 4 size 12{ ital "Fe" rSub { size 8{3} } O rSub { size 8{4} } } {} ), and suspension in water with the aid of a surfactant. The magnetic particles must be very small on the order of 10 nm (100 Å) in diameter, so that the thermal energy of the particles is large enough to overcome the magnetic interactions between particles. If the particles are too large, magnetic interactions will dominate and the particles will agglomerate. The magnetite will be synthesized by a precipitation reaction that occurs upon mixing FeCl 2 size 12{ ital "FeCl" rSub { size 8{2} } } {} and FeCl 3 size 12{ ital "FeCl" rSub { size 8{3} } } {} with ammonium hydroxide (an aqueous solution of ammonia, NH 3 size 12{ ital "NH" rSub { size 8{3} } } {} ). The unbalanced equation for this reaction is as follows:

Questions & Answers

what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
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Source:  OpenStax, Gen chem lab. OpenStax CNX. Oct 12, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10452/1.51
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