Imagine for a moment that you wake one day to discover your heart is failing. Thanks to modern medical science this isn’t as big a problem as you’d think (or at least not as much as it would have been 50 years ago), as doctors can simply replace the broken bits of your heart with machines that will keep your blood pumping. That said, heart transplants are far from ideal; there is no machine in existence that can exactly duplicate the miraculous functionality of the human heart.
At least, not yet, though a new artificial heart design utilizing the unique properties of ferrofluids may prove a far more useful replacement than our current mechanical methods of heart replacement.
Designed by Suprock Technologies in New Hampshire, this novel faux heart uses no motors or mechanical parts. Instead, an electromagnet is used to attract magnetic particles within a ferrofluid-filled elastic membrane. In effect, this membrane mimics the expansion and contraction of human muscle tissue, and a group of these membranes, filled with ferrofluid and programed to expand and contract in the proper order could, in theory, duplicate the pumping action of a living heart.
“Membrane concepts have been explored using pneumatics or hydraulics; however, we are finding that ferrofluid provides more precise control and is more compact,” says engineer Chris Suprock. “Moreover, the ferrofluid action is electric and can be powered from outside the body without physical contact.”
According to New Scientist, Suprock Technologies is currently testing two designs, “one that uses two chambers with valves, and another less traditional version that uses ferrofluid in a roller pump.” Suprock believes the latter design offers more promise however, as “it doesn’t require valves or mechanical obstacles that interrupt flow.”
For those of you still scratching your head as to what exactly ferrofluid is, we would direct your attention to this YouTube clip of the bizarre goo in action. We could also tell you that they are “a stable colloidal suspension of sub-domain magnetic particles in a liquid carrier” (which gives them properties of both fluids and of magnets), but you really don’t get a grasp of how interesting and utterly alien ferrofluid can be without seeing it in action.
Now, having seen that, it’s totally reasonable to wonder exactly how Chris Suprock’s artificial heart is supposed to work. Fortunately, the man filmed a video demo of the thing in action.