How Magnetic Soap Works

Author's Note

We never can tell where inventions will ultimately take us, or how their intended purposes might later be eclipsed by other applications. When the first lasers were built in 1960, no one quite knew what to do with them. Today, there are more than a score of laser types, with applications in medicine, skin treatment, electronics, industry, communications and scientific research and measurement. Liquid crystals were discovered in 1888, but no one really figured out what to do with them until the 1960s.

Even the most novel and promising technologies can be relegated to the dustbin of history by later developments. Still, some stick around. CDs and digital music have yet to completely kill off vinyl and, despite transistors, vacuum tubes still survive in guitar amplifiers.

Will magnetic soaps be the next big thing, or will they end up another washout? I suspect the former, if only because of the ubiquity of surfactants in nature and in industry -- and the importance of surface tension in chemistry and biology. The question is, will it be magnetic soap our children use or some strange offshoot, such as a three-dimensional video system made up of luminescent suspended colloids in a magnetic bottle?

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  • Boyle, Rebecca. "New Magnetic Soap Could Clean Oil Spills with No Suds Left Behind." Popular Science. Jan. 25, 2012. (April 9, 2012)
  • Brown, Paul et al. "Magnetic Control Over Liquid Surface Properties with Responsive Surfactants." Angewandte Chemie International Edition. Vol. 51, no. 10. Page 2414. March 5, 2012.
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