Magnetic Ball Sculptures
Buckyballs -- NeoCube
I recently purchased a set of 216 tiny balls ( 216 = 6×6×6) made
from very strong Neodymium Magnets. The 'BuckyBall' or 'NeoCube' Magnets can
be can be purchased from...
Dr Bucky, The only Australian
company with BuckyBalls. Fast turn around, very high quality and
prices. My second set of balls was from here, and I found the balls to
be stronger and more uniform in size than the previous set.
Dr Bucky now provides an offical NeoCube Australia outlet as well as a offical Buckyballs Home Page
is where I got my first set. It came in a glass jar, with the balls forming
a haphazard 'lump', which was probably why they weren't as strong as the
'Dr Bucky' set.
- Zoomdoggle BuckyBalls
the real source of ThinkGeek's product. Looks like they changed packaging
so as not to use glass, or store the magnets as a random 'lump'.
the more commonly a known trade name
Has a great photo gallery, but spoilt by their watermarks
As far as I can find out, 'Bucky Balls Magnets' was invented by University of
Pittsburgh graduate Chris Reda, and has become an internet phenomenon, and was
originally marketed as a stress relief aid. How true this is unknown, as it
is more likely to have been developed incrementally from jewelry, and hematite
balls (see below
Being magnetized the small silvery balls (each approximately 4.8mm across), strongly attract
each other. However due to the nature of magnetic fields the balls naturally
want to form long 'strings' and tight 'loops', as the magnetic fields of the
balls attempts to minimise its energy and the line of force.
As a consequence of this, the balls form a small set of shapes and structures,
such as shown in the photo right. Remembering that magnetic fields want to form
such loops is the key to building structures with them.
Note the two distinct ways in which the bead join together side-by-side.
A looped 'square' join, and a zig-zaging 'chain' join. These can be explained
to form larger flat surfaces, of either a 'square' or 'hexagonal' pattern
respectively. A YouTube Video: Lined VS Interlinked
explains this more graphically,
though different terms are used.
Square Join Surface
Chain Join Surface
The looped form 'square' join is the more common form in which two 'strings'
of bead clump together. It forms automatically when a loop of balls gets
large enough, and consists of the magnetic fields running in opposite
directions. This pulls the magnetic fields in even more tightly than the loop
itself and reduces its influence at any distance away from the 'join'.
The two 'strings' of balls are only weekly attracted, and can be very easily
separated by starting at one end separating them like 'zipper'. The 'Cube'
structure is a object created entirely from such a join.
The other side-by-side join is the zig-zag like 'chain' join. Here all the
balls line up in the same direction creating a reinforced and much stronger
magnetic field. However the 'strings' will normally want to repel each other
as they are aligning north-to-north and south-to-south. It is only when the
balls get very close together in that zig-zag pattern, that the 'strings' will
However unless the 'chain' joined together end-to-end to form a much larger
loop (or spiral) structure the magnetic field is unstable. Also when not
forming a closed loop the magnetic field is very strong and can have far
reaching effects (like a very very strong bar magnet).
The join itself is also very strong, both in the direction of the 'strings'
and between the two strings as well. Because of this is very near impossible
to pull the two strings apart without completely destroying whatever structure
they are forming. The 'Chain Icosahedron' is made entirely from a chain join.
Typically objects are created by forming small rings, or larger 'chain shapes'
from a long 'string' of balls. The small rings, and 'chain' objects form very
tightly bound 'units' that are hard to pull apart individually.
These small objects are then joined together to form larger 3 dimensional
structures, typically using the weaker 'square' joins. Using 'chain' joins
between smaller units do not work as well, though they can be used in specific
That is not to say larger objects can't be build entirely from just 'square'
or 'chain' joins and surfaces, such as the 'Cube' or 'Chain Icosahedron'
(previously shown, and again below). However they are less common and not
always the most interesting.
The square joins between the individual 'units' usually highly visible on the
final object as a 'line of discontinuity'. Looking for these discontinuities
(which also form rings at the corners between the units), and you can
generally determine how the object was constructed from the smaller objects.
A typical structure for example is an icosahedron (a 20-sided object from
flat triangular faces), and many examples are shown below. However each was
built in a different way and so produces a different pattern of
discontinuities to the individual faces. This pattern is a direct product of
the type of smaller 'unit' that was used to build that specific icosahedron.
An example of construction is the "Classic Bucky Ball", 72 balls per Bucky
Ball. which allows you to build three such balls from one set of neo-magnet
This is built from joining together 12, 5-rings with square joins to form
a small ball. You just have to be careful to make sure each ring is attached
with the magnetic field in each loop going around in the same direction. That
means neighbouring edges of a square join have the fields going in opposite
directions. Basically if you create all the rings in the same way, you should
have no problems.
An alternative view of the above ball is a icosahedron made from 3-ball
triangular rings. However 3-rings or even 4-rings are so small that they are
not very stable. It is thus basically impossible to build a bucky ball
using 3 or 4-ball rings.
The rings, and loops of magnetism is the key to understanding any of the
structures that are built. And when studying a photo of such an object it is
the identification of the magnetic lines of force that will let you determine
how to re-create the object yourself.
The rings can also joined or stacked together either by 'square' joins, or
more tightly together using 'chain' joins, to form bars and pillars. The only
difference between the two styles is whether you alternately flip each ring
over as you stack them or not. By flipping each ring over, you effectively
changing the direction of the magnetic field loops and then the rings stack
using square joins. If the ring are just stack directly on top of each other
(no flipping), you get a stronger and smaller chain stack of rings.
Other Multiple Magnet Sets
Pill Magnet Set
This was not the first time I have seen small magnets of this sort. Many
years before I purchased a set of 50 'pill' shaped magnets from a street
vendor in Seoul, Korea. When I first saw these I thought it was just a watch
band, but it was simply large loop of 50 small individual magnets.
The 'pill' shape is magnetized across the width of the shape, rather that the
expected end-to-end, which is why they tend to form 'bands' rather than
'chains'. They are larger in diameter and does not nearly have the same
'pull' as the smaller balls. I would say they were more like an 'early'
However it was a sliver plated magnet, and with the heavy usage that the
coating has worn off from extensive use, and magnetic collisions, the magnet
itself is slowly rusting to a fine dust.
I had, and still have, lots of fun with these 'pill' magnets. but the shape
tends to restrict the sculptures to flat 2 dimensional shapes, like bracelets
and loops. That however did not mean some 3 dimensional structures couldn't be
built, just that it was limited in this way.
However the exact same types of shapes can be formed, though it is restricted
to the 2 dimensional plane. Similar shapes can be hard to form with the newer
magnetic balls as they tend to lift out of the 2D plain and wrap themselves
into 3 dimensional loops and lumps.
Hematite Magnetic Balls
Later I purchased a very small number (10 in total in 2 sizes) of strongly
magnetized hematite balls from street vendors in China. These are enormous in
size compared to the buckyball magnets. However they are much stronger
magnetically, because of there size, but not because of the material.
I find them fun, but with such a small number their is very little I can do
with them. But they keep my hands busy. When I later picked up some more
they were a different size!
Later I found them on the net advertised as 'Desk Dots', which I thought
a rather stupid name.
Hematite Rocks - Natural Form
Also a particular local beach is full of small natural hematite stones,
ranging in size from 2mm to 1cm, and were easily extracted from the beach sand
using a small magnet in a plastic bag. The small rocks, themselves have only
the mildest of magnetic fields that had been picked up via induction from the
stronger magnets they have been in close contact with. In the second photo
below I have covered the previous Hematite ball sculpture with the small
Actually I later found that you can buy smaller magnetic hematite beads from
jewelry supply shops on line. These are ultra cheap in comparison to the
neodymium balls, and comes a number of different shapes.
These are various objects I have made and photographed. All this ones were
produces with a single set of buckyballs. Dr Bucky
converted many of these images in to a YouTube Video
12 Ball 'Atoms'
These are about the smallest 3 dimensional structure possible. But the
magnetic loops in the structure are not well defined. As such while stable,
they are not strongly stable. Because of this multiple atoms do not join
together properly form a larger structures.
Cube (Square Joined Solid)
Other Square Surface Structures
Cube Pillow: What you get when you try to form a 'cube' using only
Boat Pillow: Join the square surface end-to-end with a 90 degree join
and you get a 'boat'. Which then joins to form a tetrahedral like 'pillow'.
Square Cone: By square joining a series of rings, each increasing by
one ball you get a long cone structure. However while it looks good from
the back or the sides, the front has a lot of 'discontinuities'.
Chain Join Structures
Note that as the magnetic fields encircle the object they produce very strong
structures. However taking them apart is labial to result in a mess (as
shown), or highly unstable but ends with very strong magnetic fields.
A spiral cylinder looks similar to a chain cylinder, but is quite different.
However it is a good way of storing a long 'string' of balls, preventing them
from forming a mess. This is especially useful during the construction of
Other Chain Structures
These are a continuation the previous 'chain' pentagon, but switching
the layering to form a chain cylinder at the appropriate moment.
Note the complete lack of any 'square' discontinuities in the final object.
They are also very strong, as the lines of magnetism completely encircles
-- a chain joined pentagonal pyramids
-- from chain square pyramids, (see next)
-- cylinder is extended to form a longer object
-- open-ended silo with a stem and a base.
-- extending the icosahedron with a base and top spike.
Star Gem is formed from linking 5 extended chain square pyramids
Diminished Chain Structures
By carefully removing balls you can thin out a chain Isosahedron structure
until it becomes a skeleton. By carefully re-adding the removed balls so as
to lengthen the resulting skeleton you can make the object much larger, and
very delecate looking.
Buckyball - 12 × 5-ring dodecahedron
You could also regard a Buckyball as being a 20 × 3-ring icosahedron
This is extremely strong and stable structure.
Augment the Buckyball with Stacks
Augmenting each 5-ring with a extra ball, or another ring
-- a three legged QBert like creature
Soccer Ball - a mixed 5 & 6-ring ball
Construction is tricky and easy to get wrong!
Other Soccer Ball Related Structures
-- close up of the incomplete Soccer Ball
Filled 6-ring makes Soccer Ball
look more complete
-- by also adding a ball to all the 5 rings
note discontinuities between each 5/6-ring
Note construction of 6-ball triangles from 6-rings
Pinch one side, then push in the other side, until stable (mostly).
The triangles become more stable when joined together to form larger
such as the octohedron and isohedron shown above.
Any deltahedra object (See Deltahedra Objects) can be created.
9-ball triangles are construction from 9-rings,
by pinching each side, three times until stable.
It is the isohedron ball that is used for
the famous YouTube "Ball Drop" video.
Any deltahedra object (See Deltahedra Objects) can be created.
Other 12-ball Triangle Structures
Large Ring Structures
12-ball triangles are very stable, and join together very well. Not enough
balls in the standard set for a full icosahedron, but you can form two octohedrons, with enough ball left to
'fill-in' one of them.
Creating a 10-ball ring dodecahedron is a little difficult, but possible
Making a 15-ball ring dodecahedron is very difficult,
as the structure will barely support its own weight.
The 'Egg' is a 2×10-ring + 10×15-ring Dodecahedron.
A very nice looking 'large ring' structure.
Note how you use a 'string' to create a strong 'chain' joined 'unit'.
Such pentagons however are not flat.
Note the discontinuity midway between the 'points' of the
where the chain arrays connect together using a square array.
Hexagon Cylinder (square-joined hexagons)
Hexagon/Dodecagon Interleaved Cylinder
This is closely related to the previous hexagon solid cylinder, but look
closely at how the layers were 'chain-joined' together along the sides.
It is constructed by first making a 6-ring chain stack, and then adding
another layer around that stack layer by layer, producing a more tightly
packed cylinder. If you divide the cylinder in two anywhere, you will find
that you get two different types of layers forming the cylinder. Normal
hexagon layers, interleaved with a looser dodecagon style (see right most
The dodecagon layer is however unstable and will collapse into hexagons if
separated from the cylinder.
This is an even stranger cylinder with very interesting proprieties.
You construct it by interleaving 9-ball triangles with 9 ball rings in a chain
What make it so interesting is that while the 9-ball triangles remain intact
the interleaved rings can separate, allowing the cylinder to compress to about
60% of its previous length.
Triangle-Hexagon (Hexagon expansion)
By compressing just one or two corners you can make the cylinder bend in
all sorts of ways, or even form an arch.
However you will need a lot more balls if you want to bend it into half
circle, or even a full circle.
Solid Triangle (chain expansion)
Expansion of the hexagon into a larger triangular unit. |
A set of 9 such triangles can be created from the standard set.
Using 8 triangles to form a octahedron, a few more balls can used to complete
the triangles, by adding square 4-rings at the points. But you will then have
no more balls to fill in the hole in the middle of the triangular faces with
a single set.
8-ball Rhombus (6-ring expansion)
To complete a larger tetrahedral you can add another ring of balls around the
previous triangles. However the standard set will again be short the balls
needed fill in the hole in the middle of the triangular faces.
8-ball Rhombus Structures
Note that these small 8 ball rhombuses are very unstable, far too unstable to
build with directly.
As such to build a small rhombus ball using them it is easier to build the
ball skeleton using 12, 6 ball rings, joined in 4 groups of 3. This is
difficult construction to build, as the 'boat' intermediate form is unstable,
and can very easily collapse, before the last two groups is attached.
The frame work is very soft, until you complete the rhombi by inserting square
4-rings into the octagonal rings. This stabilizes the ball.
Fulling out the rhombus with a ball in the middle of the rhombus then completes
the rhombus ball. The 12, 9-ball rhombus faces are not perfectly flat, but
slightly curved, giving the ball a slight octahedral look.
The long-boat is what you get when your ball construction collapses
You can argument the rhombus ball with legs, or create a 'mine'.
Rhombus (square-ring chain expansion)
This is a very nice sized rhombus unit, which lets you form exactly 15
rhombuses from a standard set.
This lets you make a 12 unit rhombus ball with the extra balls needed to
complete the points of the rhombus.
Once complete you can diminish the structure by removing 4 balls
from each face.
This creates a very strong open frame which looks even more interesting.
Other Rhombus Structures
Dish - Crown/Flair - Fortress
Rhombus-Hexagon (Hexagon expansion)
A rhombus ball of this size requires far more balls than available
in a standard set.
But a half ball 'circus tent' is very possible.
Larger Open Frame Structures (Square)
Note the use of a corner piece to strengthen the joints.
Icosahedron Frame -- not enough balls!
Reinforced Frame Structures (Chain)
A more reinforced framing structure, note the way it is constructed
The left photo is the smallest reinforced dodecahedron frame I can make,
with just one set of balls.
The one on the right is the largest complete object posible with two sets.
Cross Over: A skeleton of a tetrahedron that collapsed into two
chains that crossed each other at ninety degrees.
Tower of Babel: a chain joined hexagons, layered together with
square joins. The balls inside the tower was removed so structure can be
Still lots more structures to explore, both in the sets looked at and in other
sets yet to explore! For example I haven't even really looked at 'flat'