Monday, May 29, 2017

Weekly Reflection for Week of 5/21


Week two of attempting to synthesize ferrofluid was again unsuccessful. Like week one, however, I learned a lot.

Lesson #1: ferrofluid is a lot harder to make than the internet says. My attempt of mixing ferric chloride with iron powder failed, which isn’t too surprising since I was improvising based on a mixture of ferrofluid recipes from a bunch of different places. This is where I learned....

Lesson #2: when it comes to complex chemistry, don’t improvise. It turns out that this didn’t work because the iron chunks (even though very small) were too large to be suspended in the oil the way I wanted. The iron particles in ferrofluid are microscopically tiny, which is why it works the way it does, and iron powder is too large. Making smaller iron particles is very difficult, and it’s what I’ve been working on since I figured out what was wrong with my previous attempt. I found a new recipe that seems much more trustworthy, since it was made by a chemistry teacher, and I’ve been trying to follow it for the majority of the week. The first step in the recipe is to basically mix ferric chloride with steel wool until it turns green. This didn’t work at first because I tried to use 1M ferric chloride, which was too weak to dissolve the steel wool and carry out the reaction. Using my shaky chemistry skills I managed to make 1.5M ferric chloride, which worked a little better. Once I had the right solution, I spent all week stirring in steel wool in the attempt to get a neon green solution. This brings us to...

Lesson #3: read the directions! This was the stupidest mistake I made, and also the most important lesson. I had seen somewhere in the recipe that the solution was supposed to turn bright green, and mine was only turning a murky brownish green, which I didn’t think was a good sign. I kept making a stronger solution of ferric chloride, eventually getting up to around 2M, but it kept turning the same murky green. Eventually I reread the directions more thoroughly and realized this was because I needed to filter the solution (oops). After filtering, it turned bright green, like I’d been hoping all week. If I'd read the directions better, I could've saved myself three days of stirring steel wool.

This week I’ll attempt the most complicated (and dangerous) part of the process. Hopefully by Friday I'll be the proud creator of some ferrofluid To the fume hood I go!

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