More from Prof Craig Ward’s type lab

Readers will (we hope) remember Craig Ward’s cover for our Annual this year in which type was grown using pollen cells. For his next trick, Ward has created the number 30 using highly magnetic ferrofluid

Readers will (we hope) remember Craig Ward‘s cover for our Annual this year in which type was grown using pollen cells. For his next trick, Ward has created the number 30 using highly magnetic ferrofluid

Ward was asked by Discover magazine to produce something for its 30th anniversary issue. As with our Annual cover (shown above), he decided to work on it with University of Denver immunologist Frank Conrad. “We offered the magazine two routes; one involving lasers, the other a kind of magnetic ink called ferrofluid which I had only seen a few times,” Ward says. “Frank was confident that we could either buy some or make our own.”

Ferrofluids feature tiny suspended particles that will react to magnets, as illustrated in this beautiful video from Sachiko Kodama and Yasushi Miyajima:

To create his 30, Ward set the figure in Trade Gothic Condensed which was then routed out of various thicknesses of wood and plastic. (Pics: Sam Ley)

The idea, Ward says, “was that we would place the routed out 30 between a magnet and a tray of ferrofluid so only the areas of fluid exposed to the magnetic field would react – creating a kind of fluid stencil. The way the ink reacts to the magnet depends on the polarity, one way attracts it, the other repels, pushing it upward in spikes.”

Here’s the final image with details (shot by Nicholas Eveleigh):

“Whilst this may look like an expensive CGI render from one of the Terminator films, all of this was captured in camera with a clever use of lights and reflective surfaces making the best use of the reflective nature of the liquid,” Ward says. “The oily nature of our mix is what has given the numbers their rainbow-like halo.”

When we posted about Ward’s Annual cover, some commenters questioned whether it wouldn’t have been better to have done the whole thing in 3D software. Apart from ruling out the kind of happy accidents that can occur when you are experimenting with physical substances, what such an approach also rules out is the possibility of extending the ‘story’ of the work via making-of imagery such as is shown here. Certainly, as far as CR is concerned, this is always a factor when we are thinking about commissioning covers for the magazine. We want a great cover, but having a great story behind the making of the cover is even better.

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