Ferrolic: A clock using magnetic fluid to spell the time

Ferrolic: A clock using magnetic fluid to spell the time

Dutch designer Zelf Koelman uses magnetic ferrofluid under the control of electromagnets to spell the time.

Koelman developed the clock as an industrial design student at TU Eindhoven: "Ferrolic was designed from a strong fascination for the magical material ferrofluid. The natural dynamics of this fluid mean that this display bridges the gap between everyday digital screens and tangible reality."

Ferrofluid is a liquid that becomes strongly magnetised in the presence of a magnetic field. It was invented in the 1960s by American space research agency NASA’s Steve Papell as a liquid rocket fuel. The liquid could be drawn toward a pump inlet in a weightless environment by applying a magnetic field.

Magnetic movements

The Ferrolic has no mechanical parts, unlike traditional clocks, and relies on embedded electromagnets to control the display’s ferrofluid. Without any mechanical elements, it makes no noise, according to Koelman. It also produces no light.

The clock is composed of an aluminium-framed screen containing liquid which enables the ferrofluid to move freely. By turning on the electromagnets, the ferrofluid is attracted to places with the strongest magnetism, forming the clock numbers on the display.

"Its unique dynamics are the visual result of the black fluid continuously finding balance between gravity, magnetic fields and its own van der Waals forces," Koelman explained.

Users can edit the display

The software used to control the magnets is accessible through a web browser. Users can customise and adapt the information displayed, like the time, text, shapes and transitions. Koelman reveals that experienced users can create animations from their custom shapes.

"Because the fluid behaves in an unpredictable way, it is possible to give the bodies, perceived in the Ferrolic display, a strong reference to living creatures," the designer said.

A working progress

Koelman is still developing the Ferrolic and intends to make limited editions available for pre-order, with each clock costing around 7.500 euros.

Parvinder Marwaha


Parvinder Marwaha

British-born editor Parvinder studied architecture in the UK. Amsterdam’s architecture and design scene led her to the city, as well the obvious perks of canal-side living. She writes for various...

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