Levitating Objects In Paramagnetic Liquids

Two weekends ago was the Bay Area Maker Faire, and lacking a venue to talk to people who actually make things, we had a meetup at a pub. This brought out a ton of interesting people, and tons of interesting demos of what these people were building. By either proclivity or necessity, most of these demos were very blinkey. The demo [Grant McGregor] from Monterey Community College brought was not blinkey, but it was exceptionally cool. He’s levitating objects in paramagnetic liquids with permanent magnets.

Levitating objects in a paramagnetic solution around a magnetic field has been an intense area of research for the Whitesides Research Group for a few years now, with papers that demonstrate methods of measuring the density of objects in a paramagnetic solution and fixing diamagnetic objects inside a magnetic field. [Grant] is replicating this research with things that can be brought to a bar in a small metal box – vials of manganese chlorate with bits of plastic and very strong neodymium magnets. The bits of plastic in these vials usually float or sink, depending on exactly what plastic they’re made of. When the paramagnetic solution is exposed to a magnetic field, the density of the solution changes, making the bits of plastic sink or float.

It’s a bizarre effect, but [Grant] mentioned a nurd rage video that shows the effect very clearly. [Grant]’s further experiments will be to replicate the Whitesides Research Group’s experiment to fix a diamagnetic object inside a magnetic field. As for any practical uses for this effect, you might be able to differentiate between different types of plastic (think 3D printing filament) with just a vial of solution and a strong magnet.

[Grant] was heading out of the pub right when I ran into him, but he did stick around long enough to run into the alley behind the pub and record an interview/demo. You can check that out below.

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Subwoofer makes cornstarch dance


People tend not to think about the non-Newtonian properties of foodstuffs, but we’re glad at least one person did. When it comes to cornstarch, it’s indeterminate viscosity when mixed with water made it the perfect solution for a pretty neat trick: making a liquid move in reaction to a subwoofer. The unique motion can be attributed to the physical properties of the solution: when enough force is applied quickly, it acts as a solid. Otherwise, it flows like a liquid. The erratic bouncing of the sound waves combined with a little tactile manipulation create varying degrees and speeds of applied pressure, which in turn create a mass of flowing shapes that almost appear to be alive.

We’ve covered weird fluids before, but this is perhaps most similar to SnOil, a game that uses ferrofluids to achieve a similar result. SnOil, however, does not depend of vibrations to create shapes in the fluid, it uses small electromagnets and magnetically charges liquid instead. We love the ordered appearance of the SnOil unit, but the chaotic motion of the cornstarch and it’s non-Newtonian properties make it appear almost otherworldly. We wonder how ferrofluids would react in a situation similar to the cornstarch above, since it would respond to both the vibration and the voice coil’s magnetic field.

[via Neatorama]

Magnetic Movie


Magnetic field lines may be invisible to the naked eye, but they behave in ways that would amaze us if only we could see them. [Ruth Jarman] and [Joe Gerhardt] from Semiconductor wanted to make them visible for everyone, so they produced Magnetic Movie, a film that combines animations, theoretical models, and actual VLF recordings of the entire Earth’s magetic forces to create a film that shows magnetic fields moving and jumping through the air in living color.

The film is part art project and part scientific experiment, but we can enjoy it on both levels, as watching the path and motion of magnetic field lines is both beautiful and informative. Get a glimpse for yourself after the break.

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