Technology 3 min read

Fully Magnetic Liquid Created for the First Time Through 3D Printing

Engineers at Berkeley Lab used a modified 3D printer to create a magnetic liquid with potential applications in medicine, soft robotics, and flexible electronics.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Since the dawn of civilization, humans were — excuse the unintended pun — attracted to magnets.

Scientists investigated the weird properties of magnets to take advantage of them in many different ways, such as data storage, drug therapies, and fusion power.

But, what about magnetic devices based on liquid and not solid magnetic materials? Or in other words, magnetic liquid.

Researchers at the DoE’s Berkeley Lab have created just that.

3D-Printable Magnetic Liquid

Using a modified 3D printer, material scientists at Berkeley Lab created a liquid with the properties of fluids that also exhibits magnetic properties like solid magnets.

Leading the study is Tom Russell, a visiting scientist at Berkeley Lab and professor of polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who led the study.

“We’ve made a new material that is both liquid and magnetic. No one has ever observed this before,” said Russel “This opens the door to a new area of science in magnetic soft matter.”

According to the researchers, this magnetic liquid is a “revolutionary material” that could lead to a whole novel class of printable liquid devices for a wide range of applications. It ranges “from artificial cells that deliver targeted cancer therapies to flexible liquid robots that can change their shape to adapt to their surroundings.”

We have footage of the magnetic droplets created by Tom Russell and his colleagues:

It’s worth noting that this magnetic liquid isn’t a ferrofluid, although they share some similarities. Unlike ferrofluids, Berkeley Lab’s magnetic fluid doesn’t need the presence of an external magnetic field for its magnetism to function.

Actually, the 3D-printable magnetic liquid structures created by the team is based on ferrofluids and comes as a development throwing seven-year research. It is a part of a program in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, Adaptive Interfacial Assemblies Towards Structuring Liquids, focussed on the development of a new class of materials called “Structured Liquids.”

“We wondered, ‘If a ferrofluid can become temporarily magnetic, what could we do to make it permanently magnetic, and behave like a solid magnet but still look and feel like a liquid?’” said Russell.

The team used a modified 3D-printer they had developed to print 1-millimeter droplets from a ferrofluid solution of iron-oxide nanoparticles. Then these droplets become permanently magnetic thanks to a magnetic coil. Even when the droplets are divided into smaller droplets, about the size of a human hair, they retain all their magnetic properties.

The Berkeley Lab team proved that permanent magnets could be made from liquids as well as solids after all, contrary to what has been assumed for a long time.

Read More: Breakthrough: New Magnet Could Revolutionize Data Storage

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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