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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

Table of Contents

Abstract Volume 15 (2010) pp 420-425

Ferrofluid Synthesis: Concurrently Teaching Laboratory Techniques and Enhancing Interest in Nanoscience

Michelle Richards-Babb*, R. Lloyd Carroll, and Robert J. Sweeney

C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry,West Virginia University,Morgantown, WV 26506-6045, Michelle.Richards-Babb@mail.wvu.edu; High Tech High Chula Vista, Chula Vista, CA 91915
Received August 25, 2010. Accepted September 23, 2010.

Published: 22 December 2010

Abstract. Early and sustained introduction of nanotechnology to freshmen will aid in arming undergraduates with information in order to make informed decisions about nanotechnology, and recruiting undergraduates to the nanotechnology workforce. Ferrofluid synthesis provides an opportunity for students to 1) learn and demonstrate proper laboratory techniques, 2) experience the consequences of improper laboratory technique, and 3) be introduced and potentially recruited to nanoscience. At our institution, ferrofluid synthesis, along with contextual examples of ferrofluid use (in vehicles, medical imaging, and art), was implemented into the general chemistry curriculum as the first experiment. Despite the novice laboratory skills of our students, 92.9% of students (N = 1714) successfully synthesized a magnetic ferrofluid. Students obtaining non-magnetic products provided valid self-evaluative explanations that, in general, highlighted the importance of proper laboratory techniques (precise measurements, proper labeling, etc.). Teaching assistant opinions about this experiment were generally positive with all teaching assistants recommending continuation of this experiment. A dramatic increase in undergraduate inquiries about nanoscience and research in general as a result of this experiment and the ensuing classroom examples has been observed. Currently, five undergraduate students are engaged in the preparation of ferrofluid for studies of self-organized magnetocomposite materials, energy-generating and catalytic materials, biomedical applications, and fundamental surface chemistry, and 3 of 5 have indicated increased interest in pursuing scientific research careers. This type of active, relevant experiment has the potential to motivate students in ways that are difficult to achieve by other means.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; general chemistry; laboratory instruction; ferrofluids

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail: Michelle.Richards-Babb@mail.wvu.edu)

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