A team of scientists at the University of Bristol may have just developed a method of gathering oil from distressing oil spills. Led by Professor Julian Eastoe, the team at the Bristol University have developed a soap, which is not just a soap. The scientists dissolved iron-rich salts dissolved in water in the liquid soap, giving it enough qualities to make it responsive to a magnetic field when placed in a solution. In an official statement released by the university, it has been revealed that the iron-rich soap's capabilities were put to test using neutrons at the Institut Laue-Langevin. The official statement reads, “The soap’s magnetic properties were proved with neutrons at the Institut Laue-Langevin to result from tiny iron-rich clumps that sit within the watery solution. The generation of this property in a fully functional soap could calm concerns over the use of soaps in oil-spill clean ups and revolutionise industrial cleaning products.”

A way out of this (Image credit: Getty Images)

A way out of this (Image credit: Getty Images)

Moves to control soap once inside a solution isn't a new pathway in research. Being able to control soap once inside a solution has lingered on the ambitions of scientists for long. By controlling soaps this way, scientists aimed to increase the ability of the soap to dissolve oils in water and then remove them from the system. Reportedly, these scientists previously worked on producing soaps sensitive to light, carbon dioxide or changes in pH, temperature or pressure. However, their tryst with producing soap, sensitive to a magnetic field has brought it to the fore.

For their experiment, the team of scientists at the University of Bristol dissolved iron in, what they refer to as ” inert surfactant materials”, composed of chloride and bromide ions – a composition very similar to that found in mouthwash or fabric conditioner. Putting iron in such a solution creates metallic points in it, thus making it responsive to magnets. Further putting it to test, the scientists placed the iron containing soap solution into a test tube, lying under a less dense organic solution and took a magnet close to it. On bringing magnet close to this iron-rich solution, it was noticed that the solution defied gravity and surface tension existent between water and oil. The solution levitated through the other organic solution and managed to come closer to the source of the magnetic energy, thus establishing its magnetic properties. Amazed by what they saw, the team of scientists took it to the Institut Laue-Langevin, the world’s flagship centre for neutron science, and which is also home to the world’s most intense neutron source to unravel the mystery behind the incident.

Stating the significance of their findings, Professor Julian Eastoe stated, “As most magnets are metals, from a purely scientific point of view these ionic liquid surfactants are highly unusual, making them a particularly interesting discovery. From a commercial point of view, though these exact liquids aren’t yet ready to appear in any household product, by proving that magnetic soaps can be developed, future work can reproduce the same phenomenon in more commercially viable liquids for a range of applications from water treatment to industrial cleaning products.”

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