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

Dr Bucky [photo]

ThinkGeek BuckyBalls, 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. [photo]
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'.
NeoCube, the more commonly a known trade name
CyberCube
QQMag, Has a great photo gallery, but spoilt by their watermarks

[photo] 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.

[photo] 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.

[photo]
Square Join Surface
[photo]
Chain Join Surface

[photo] 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 'chain' together.

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). [photo]

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.

[photo] 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.

[photo] 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 cases.

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 balls.

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.

[photo] [photo]

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.

[photo] [photo]


Other Multiple Magnet Sets

Pill Magnet Set

[photo] 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.

[photo] 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' experimental form.

[photo] 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.

[photo] [photo]

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.
[photo] [photo] [photo]

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 rocks.
[photo] [photo]

Magnetic Jewelry

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.


Sculpture Gallery...

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'
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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)
[photo] [photo]

Other Square Surface Structures
[photo] [photo] Cube Pillow: What you get when you try to form a 'cube' using only square joins.
[photo] [photo] 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'.
[photo] [photo] 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
[photo] [photo] [photo]
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.

Spiral Cylinder
[photo] [photo] [photo]
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 objects.

Chain Icosahedron
[photo] [photo]
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 the objects.

Other Chain Structures
[photo] [photo] [photo]
Pentagon Gem -- a chain joined pentagonal pyramids
Octahedron -- from chain square pyramids, (see next)

[photo] [photo] [photo]
Silo -- cylinder is extended to form a longer object
Cup -- open-ended silo with a stem and a base.
Trophy -- extending the icosahedron with a base and top spike.

Star Gem
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
[photo] [photo]
Star Gem is formed from linking 5 extended chain square pyramids

Diminished Chain Structures
[photo] [photo]
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
[photo] [photo]
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

[photo] [photo] - [photo] [photo]
Augmenting each 5-ring with a extra ball, or another ring
Bucky Monster -- a three legged QBert like creature

Soccer Ball - a mixed 5 & 6-ring ball
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
Construction is tricky and easy to get wrong!

Other Soccer Ball Related Structures

[photo] [photo] [photo]
Faberge Egg -- close up of the incomplete Soccer Ball
Filled 6-ring makes Soccer Ball look more complete
Icosahedron -- by also adding a ball to all the 5 rings
    note discontinuities between each 5/6-ring

6-ball Triangles
[photo] [photo] [photo]
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 objects,
such as the octohedron and isohedron shown above.
Any deltahedra object (See Deltahedra Objects) can be created.

9-ball Triangles
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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.

12-ball Triangles
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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.

Other 12-ball Triangle Structures
[photo] [photo]

Large Ring Structures
[photo] [photo]
Creating a 10-ball ring dodecahedron is a little difficult, but possible

[photo] Making a 15-ball ring dodecahedron is very difficult,
as the structure will barely support its own weight.
[photo] The 'Egg' is a 2×10-ring + 10×15-ring Dodecahedron.
A very nice looking 'large ring' structure.


Pentagons
[photo] [photo] [photo]
Note how you use a 'string' to create a strong 'chain' joined 'unit'.
Such pentagons however are not flat.

Pentagon Structures

[photo] [photo] [photo]
Note the discontinuity midway between the 'points' of the icosahedron (center),
where the chain arrays connect together using a square array.

Hexagons
[photo] [photo] [photo]

Hexagon Cylinder (square-joined hexagons)

[photo] [photo]

Hexagon/Dodecagon Interleaved Cylinder
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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 photo).

The dodecagon layer is however unstable and will collapse into hexagons if separated from the cylinder.

Flexible Cylinder
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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 structure.

[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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.

[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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.

Triangle-Hexagon (Hexagon expansion)
[photo] [photo] [photo]
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.

Solid Triangle (chain expansion)
[photo] [photo]
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 (6-ring expansion)
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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.

8-ball Rhombus Structures
[photo] [photo]     [photo] [photo]
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)
[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
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.

[photo] [photo]
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
[photo] [photo] [photo]
Dish - Crown/Flair - Fortress

Rhombus-Hexagon (Hexagon expansion)
[photo] [photo]
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)
[photo] [photo] [photo]
Note the use of a corner piece to strengthen the joints.

[photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
Icosahedron Frame -- not enough balls!

Reinforced Frame Structures (Chain)
[photo] [photo] [photo]
A more reinforced framing structure, note the way it is constructed

[photo] [photo]
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.


Miscellaneous Objects
[photo] Cross Over: A skeleton of a tetrahedron that collapsed into two chains that crossed each other at ninety degrees.
[photo] Tower of Babel: a chain joined hexagons, layered together with square joins. The balls inside the tower was removed so structure can be made larger.

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' artwork. Yet!


Created: 30 July 2009
Updated: 1 December 2009
Author: Anthony Thyssen, <anthony@cit.gu.edu.au>