Magnetic Waltz is an interactive kinetic sculpture based on ferrofluid (a magnetic liquid) which invites participants to explore the bizarre interplay of magnetics, gravity, and fluid mechanics. The ferrofluid dances and twirls, choreographed via hidden electronically-controlled magnets. This mesmerizing display seems to defy the laws of physics, and it invites participants to take a closer look and question their perceptions. What is it made of? How does it ooze and flow against gravity so? Why does it form those beautifully intricate labrynthian patterns? Is it alive? Will it be my friend?
Ferrofluid is an incredible substance that results when ferromagnetic nanoparticles are permanently suspended in an oil carrier liquid. The nanoparticles magnetize under the influence of an external magnetic field, causing them to be attracted to each other as well as external magnets. This leads to some interesting behavior as the nanoparticles move and the oil gets carried along for the ride. The oil tends to stretch and elongate in the direction of the magnetic field, much like iron filings. In Magnetic Waltz, the oil is surrounded by an alcohol solution which does not mix with the oil. Surface tension between the oil and alcohol means they prefer to minimize their contacting surface area, resulting in some interesting "labryinth" and droplet patterns. Finally, the oil is heavier than the alcohol and falls due to gravity when the magnetic field is pulled away.
Magnetics and fluids provide rich media for kinetic art. Magnetic Waltz showcases several interesting physics: magnetic force and magnetization, fluid mechanics, surface tension, and gravity. Unlike electronic displays or LEDs, the fluid exhibits subtle three-dimensionality, reflecting sunlight off the surfaces of the liquid in interesting ways. It is physical and real, yet completely magical at the same time.
Magnetic Waltz uses electronically-controlled rare earth magnets to animate a ferrofluid display. The tabletop version shown here has been built to test concepts in preparation for a full-scale freestanding structure that will be installed in Black Rock City. The piece consists of a viewing portal constructed from two pieces of glass separated by a rubber gasket around the perimeter. The front glass is clear while the rear glass is opaque white. The space between these two glass pieces is filled with a clear alcohol solution containing a small amount of oil-based ferrofluid. Because the alcohol and oil do not mix, the ferrofluid is free to dance as independent droplets through the alcohol solution. Behind the white glass is a robotic rotary mechanism that animates the ferrofluid via rare earth magnets. The robot is controlled with an Arduino and runs a pre-programmed choreography script which can be edited using a joystick. The full-scale version will feature a vision system which will respond to participants' movements.
Magnetic Waltz was created by Frankie Myers, a bioengineer living in Oakland, California.