Archive for June, 2010

Kitchen Chemistry is Hard (but fun!)

This week a friend and I made ferrofluid.  For those of you who may not know, ferrofluid is the coolest thing ever.  Go look it up.  Seriously.  Look it up.  As you might guess from the title, things didn’t go exactly as planned.  We’re treating this as a practice run.  Eventually we’ll be using the ferrofluid for some fun projects that are still in the planning stages, but first, the ‘fluid!

We originally planned to use the ferrofluid recipe that my friend Sacha over at ChemHacker is making, but he hasn’t worked out all the kinks.  He offered to let us use his lab and reagents, but scheduling difficulties got in the way (he did hook me up with some oleic acid, and exchanging chemistry supplies in a bar is one of the shadiest legit things I’ve ever done).  He pointed us to a recipe over at SciSpot, which we ended up using a modified version of (at Sacha’s suggestion we did the last ammonia gas releasing step in a safer way).

Having good lab technique is hard to do in your kitchen.  I’d love to be able to devote a room to being a full time lab, but that’s just not happening where I live right now.  Here’s our setup:

Ferrofluid setup

Don't worry, the chemistry didn't seem to bother my aloe plant.

Here’s Nick stirring the mixture:

Nick stirring the ferrofluid

Step 1: Stir that shit! Err, mix the reagents thoroughly. Yeah.

Is it supposed to look radioactive?

I knew I should have gotten that Geiger counter

Step 2: You remembered to wear your lead apron, right?

Skipping ahead some steps, here’s the modified setup we used for step 5 from the SciSpot recipe.  The erlenmeyer flask has a mixture of chemicals including ammonia, which we’re trying to evaporate off.  Ammonia gas is not exactly good for you (read: it will burn your lungs off), so we’re running the gas into a beaker full of ice water.  Ammonia gas dissolves readily in water, turning back into something that won’t necessarily harm you for life.

Boiling off the ammonia

I hope.

Finally, we got some ok looking ferrofluid!

Ferrofluid!

Ferrofluid!

Some of the imperfections come from the recipe (using PCB etchant instead of straight chemicals means there are extra things in there that we don’t need), and some probably come from this being our first try.  We should be trying this again soon, so we should know then.  Once again, a big thanks to Sacha at ChemHacker for helping us get this done!

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