So far, the most practical use man has found for ferrofluid — the mesmerising black goo that reacts to magnets in cool ways — is as gorgeous eye candy. And that’s totally OK, because how else would have Nike realised this slick animated display for its new Kevin Durant sneakers?
The in-store display was created by a design studio called Guild, which was tasked to encourage shoppers not only to stop and stare (a crowd always draws a bigger crowd, right?) but also snap photos of the sneakers and share them on social media.
Invented way back in 1963 by NASA’s Steve Papell as a magnetically-powered rocket fuel, ferrofluid is now mostly used in speakers, switches, low-friction bearings, and other applications where it’s kept out of sight. Most people don’t have any interaction with it. So seeing it morph and change shape as it does in the presence of a magnetic field is straight-up magical. Who wouldn’t want to Instagram that?
To create the display, Guild started by 3D printing a large replica of the KD8 shoe in plastic — or at least two halves of the shoe that were later combined to create a solid replica with incredible detailing, right down to the subtle patterns and textures of the fabrics.
The plastic replica of the KD8 was then mounted over a small tub that would be filled with a shallow bath of ferrofluid. To bring the whole display to life, a pair of powerful neodymium magnets was installed inside each replica shoe, each magnet capable of supporting up to 81kg. They move back and forth along the length of the shoe on a hidden track.
The strong magnetic field not only causes the ferrofluid to appear to magically flow up and around the sneaker, seemingly against the pull of gravity — it also makes it form these incredibly cool 3D spikes that appear to morph all around the shoe.
There’s actually quite a bit of maintenance required to keep this unique display working properly, as ferrofluid tends to evaporate quickly and leave an oily residue behind. So don’t expect to see Guild’s creation used to sell too many other products — as cool as it would be to see gallons of the material flowing over a full-size Ferrari.