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Magnetic soap could suck up oil spills

Friday, January 27, 2012 - 02:17

Jan. 27 - A team of international scientists has invented a magnetic soap that could revolutionize the clean-up of dangerous oil spills. It's the first cleaning surfactant that responds to magnets. The team, led by Bristol University Professor of Chemistry Julian Eastoe, created a liquid soap containing iron atoms which help form tiny particles. Jim Drury reports.

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This is the world's first magnetic soap. Invented by scientists at Bristol University it could revolutionise the clean-up of dangerous oil spills. It's the first cleaning surfactant to respond to magnets, as researcher Paul Brown demonstrates. SOUNDBITE (English) PHD RESEARCH STUDENT, PAUL BROWN, SAYING: "As the magnet comes down toward the magnetic surfactant the soap overcomes both gravity and surface tension and rises up towards the magnet and we can see it coming up through an oily top phase until it is deposited." The soap was created by dissolving iron in standard soap materials made of chlorine and bromine ions, similar to those found in mouthwash. Tests showed applying a magnetic field helped remove both the surfactant and the material it had dissolved. Soap is made of two distinct parts, as team leader Professor Julian Eastoe explains. SOUNDBITE (English) BRISTOL UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY, JULIAN EASTOE, SAYING: "One of them dislikes water, it's hydrophobic, and is normally an organic part of the molecule. And the other likes water, it's called hydrophilic. What we have in those soaps is a hydrophilic part that contains the element iron, and everybody knows that iron interacts with magnets and so we have synthesises a new kind of molecule which has iron as an integral part of the molecular structure." Eastoe believes the breakthrough technology could one day be vital in cleaning up oil slicks. Difficulties in decontaminating affected birdlife could become a thing of the past. SOUNDBITE (English) BRISTOL UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY, JULIAN EASTOE, SAYING: "Sea birds become contaminated by oil and cleaning them is a great great problem. That is because you cannot suck off the dirt from a sea bird. You can only rely on normal; detergent action. With magnetic soaps it would be possible to have not only the detergency cleaning action but also an added pull of the contaminating oil using an external magnetic field." The research is still at the lab stage, but Eastoe says pharmaceutical companies are already showing interest in developing the technology. Jim Drury, Reuters

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Magnetic soap could suck up oil spills

Friday, January 27, 2012 - 02:17