If you grew up between the ‘70s and the ‘90s, there’s a good chance you had a lava lamp in your room and spent hours lounging in its glow as warm dyed wax made languid movements through transparent fluids inside. Other than adding a little groovy atmosphere, they don’t do much, but a n toy has arrived that maintains many of the same fun properties while adding an interactive element.
Ferrofluid sculptures are almost like a lava lamp, Etch-a-Sketch and science experiment in one, using magnetic nanoparticles to create temporary, moving works of art.
Ferrofluid (ferromagnetic fluid) is an oily liquid made up of magnetic metallic dust covered in surfactants to keep them from clumping, suspended in a transparent carrier fluid like water or an organic solvent. Those magnetic particles, usually made of magnetite or hematite, are strong enough to react to a magnet, but weak enough to maintain their form when manipulated.
This fluid has its practical applications; it was invented in 1963 by NASA as a liquid rocket fuel that can be pumped in a weightless environment and is also used to form liquid seals around spinning drive shafts in hard disks. It can even be injected into a patient’s body as a sort of protective coating for drugs like chemotherapy, magnetically targeting the location where they’re most needed. But when contained in glass and paired with a magnetic stylus, it becomes an art medium, too.
Concept Zero, an online shop offering the world’s largest selection of ferrofluid displays in the world, calls it “a magnetic liquid that looks like CGI manifested into the real world.” Check out videos of the fluids in action and you’ll see exactly what they mean, as the liquid takes on strange spiked forms in response to magnetic stimulation and then collapses back into liquid.
Each display comes with a neodymium magnetic stylus and tough-to-open cap, both resistant to curious children who might be tempted to take a taste, though they’re meant only for adults over the age of 18 since the glass bottles are breakable. The ferrofluids come in a variety of colors, from their natural black to shade-shifting hues, and size options range from small 30 ml rectangular bottles to the 750 ml zKull, which comes in a Crystal Skull Vodka bottle.
“We only use EDU grade ferrofluid in combination with our world renowned suspension liquid to produce the best quality ferrofluid displays in the world,” says Concept Zero. “Magnets are included with every ferrofluid display sold on our site. The top of the display is magnetic, so it easily stores the included magnets when not in use.”
“The Motion makes an amazing science gift for any self-described geek, stressed co-worker or curious mind. It’s a mess-free way to enjoy ferrofluid and visualize the oddly satisfying magnetic fields.”
They do seem like futuristic alternatives for desktop zen gardens, giving you something mindless to play with when your brain needs a break from work or you just need to take a moment to de-stress — and they look pretty cool, too.