Surfactants with Magnetic Properties for Oil Spill Cleanup


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The drop of surfactant is attracted towards the magnet. Photo by the University of Bristol.

Magnetic Behavior of Surfactants

The magnetic properties of these surfactants was tested; parameters such as magnetic susceptibility (c) and magnetic movement (m) were measured. All three MILSs showed magnetic behavior, while the non-modified surfactants did not show any.

This behavior can be observed in this image, which shows the droplet of MILS as it is attracted towards the magnet.

Surfactants for More Efficient Oil Spill Cleanup

Professor Julian Eastoe, leading scientist in this research, explains to Decoded Science:

The results of this study are very important, as we have established the proof of principle that a surfactant can also have magnetic properties. Now that magnetic surfactants are a reality, many applications become possible which were otherwise unimaginable.”

As shown in this video, these surfactants can be removed from a water/oil emulsion with the action of a magnet.

This behaviour could have many applications for cleaning our environment. These surfactants would be ideal, for instance, to clean an oil spill in the sea, as both surfactant and oil could be removed with a magnet at the end of the cleaning process. In this method of oil cleanup, there will be no detergent left in the water, which will minimize the negative impact on the environment. Furthermore, the detergent could even be used again for later cleanups, reducing waste.

According to Professor Eastoe: “these systems now have to be optimized for these practical applications, but this first step in their development was a great achievement.


Brown, P., et al. Magnetic Control over Liquid Surface Properties with Responsive Surfactants. (2012). Angewandte Chemie International Edition. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201108010. Accessed February 13, 2012.

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