Introduction: Making Rheoscopic Fluid

Picture of Making Rheoscopic Fluid
Hello all,

I recently discovered rheoscopic fluid which is used to visualize the subtle currents in liquid. It works similar to dropping dye into the fluid to highlight currents, but rheoscopic fluid will never mix! Below is couple clips of my first batch.


 

Also, here is the video that started my pursuit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V98NnZsmTm4

How does this magical substance work? Well, to paraphrase Wikipedia, there are crystal flakes that align with the direction of shear when in motion. These aligned flakes reflect light toward the observer. Once the fluid stops moving, the flakes take on a random orientation and light is again diffused. Of course, Wikipedia gave no hint to the actual ingredient... I searched for a few good hours trying to figure out how this stuff works. Turns out it's something of a trade secret, it would seem...

...Next is some history I discovered during my quest for the secret, but you can skip to step 2 if you're dying for the details.

Step 1: History

Picture of History

Wikipedia was a dead end and also lacked any history on the fluid. However, I remembered the name of the video I saw was 'Kalliroscope' so I looked it up. The wiki article linked it to the works of an artist named Paul Matisse. After prolonged investigation, I was able to dig up only one photo of him and an amazing creation. He built a table with a large rotary disc of rheoscopic fluid. As you turn it, a blue hurricane like structure appears in the table. It also turned out that the kalliroscope in the video was produced by Matisse in a limited run and are quite valuable now.

Rheoscopic fluid was also used in the past by educators and engineers. These days computers are predominately used to run simulations of airfoils and fluid dynamics, but before that models had to be built and tested. One method was to take the object and submerse it in flowing rheoscopic fluid. I managed to find one video from the 1960's (@ 2:22 & 23:50 min mark) demonstrating flow instability:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yutbmcO5g2o
A rare modern replica too:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pxdbdwf8pYA

But this form of art/science was largely lost after the 1960's. Only a few museums have displays and the limited places that sell rheoscopic fluid really don't say what it's made of.

Step 2: Secret Ingredients

Picture of Secret Ingredients

After my long search, one video had 'mica powder' in the description. My wife was over my shoulder and said nonchalantly that it is used in makeup to give that sparkly appearance. It's also used in shampoo to give it that distinct shiny goo look. It's non-soluble with water which is why it doesn't mix. So I face-palmed myself for thinking it was some exotic substance and ordered white cosmetic mica powder from amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Shimmer-Powder-Cosmetic-Slice-Moon/dp/B008H3NJ4G/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1397076546&sr=8-3&keywords=mica+powder

You can also purchase different colors of mica. This opens up the possibility of, say, red mica against blue water. I chose white to begin with as it is very reflective and will appear to take on the color of the liquid.

It was only 1oz for $9, but it went WAY farther than I expected. You could use half an oz on a 10 gallon aquarium and have nearly the same results as Paul Matisse's table.

However, mica is not the only mundane source of rheoscopic fluid particulate. If you can acquire very fine aluminium powder, it will duplicate the mica's appearance pound for pound. You can even produce your own aluminum powder with a coffee bean grinder, foil and ear plugs. Inhalation and ingestion of the powder is dangerous though, and the grinder will only be good for aluminum. I won't rule it out though for future projects as it may be cheaper in the long run and a respirator/gloves will mitigate the danger. Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phMgqT6EsYc

Yet another way is to use silver calligraphy ink. If you happen to have some, it's a good alternative. You can use an eye-dropper to transfer the ink out of it's bottle. If not on hand or at a nearby store, I would just order some mica powder.

Ultimately, the cosmetic mica powder seems to be the best bang-for-your-buck and requires little effort.

*Update* Finely ground graphite seems to show similar properties. It might be the cheapest of the bunch, but it's naturally dark appearance may be an issue. It should not be handled directly; use gloves and a mask or respirator just like the aluminum method.

As for the working fluid the powder is suspended in, I use ordinary water! It works fine even if it isn't what Matisse used. After examining the label on an original kalliroscope in ebay, I discovered he used Tetrachloroethylene. It's on the EPA's hot list and is a chlorofluorocarbon + solvent. User Starphire tells me that it was selected due to it's low boiling point. This allowed convection to be seen when the solution was heated. It's also not flammable like other low boiling point liquids, but it's toxic. However, the visual difference in motion is minuscule and you won't notice unless you heat it (plus water is cheap)!

Step 3: Ratios and Additives

Picture of Ratios and Additives

I took 1/4 tsp of mica and mixed it with 1 liter of tap water! It yielded a very nice flow visualization and suspension of particulate. After several minutes it will settle to the bottom, but when you maintain even the slightest movement it will remain. Also, I think it's quite possible to use less powder to yield still impressive results. 1/8 tsp per liter didn't have quite the definition of currents as Paul Matisse's table or kalliroscope, but it's still was pretty nice.

Simply adding a drop or two of food coloring per liter will give you great colors without diminishing the effect. You don't want to make it too dark a shade or it may block out light from reaching down into fluid. If you do make a darker fluid, you will need to add more mica to offset the occluded water. You can see in the photos that the plain white mica shines very bright, but is can be clouded substantially with (red) food coloring if used liberally. I am working on a ratio for darker mixtures and will update if I succeed.

Have some neglected high-lighters around? You can use them to add a vibrant florescent glow. I used some needle-nose pliers to remove the end-cap of the high-lighter. This revealed the ink well, which is just a squishy cotton like cylinder. Squeezing the ink well over your bottle of water will cause drops of high-lighter to fall in (as photos show). It looks very bright just in ambient light, but that wasn't enough. I exposed the mix to a UV flashlight and it created an interesting effect. Instead of the mica shining near the surface, the fluid seemed to glow from within and blocked by the mica. In other words, it was inverted in appearance like a negative picture film. The comparison picture shows it somewhat, but doesn't really do it justice. **special thanks to users Gravityisweak and Rpotts2 for the idea**

User Bpark1000 suggested adding some rubbing alcohol or dish soap to the fluid. This will prevent anything from growing in your container over time. I've been putting some dish soap in mine to test and it seems to be none-the-worse for it. 

It's really that simple! Maybe it's just because of all research I had to do, but I expected it to be harder to get something this interesting.

*Note/Update: I tried using baby oil for a more viscous rheoscopic fluid and it didn't work. Oil based liquids seem to repel the mica powder. This causes it to form a layer between the jar and liquid. If you want to make the fluid more thick/viscous, you can mix in clear corn syrup to the water until you achieve the desired consistency. However, this seems to make the fluid really resist moving and makes for less spectacular results. Still, it retains a nice pearly shampoo like appearance and might be useful for something.

**Note/Update: Turns out the corn syrup/water mix was actually useful! User Gravityisweak brought up the idea of adding magnetic particles to the fluid and seeing what happens. Well, as fate would have it, I had a magnetic viewer filled with corn syrup/water I made a while back (added pics). You see, the magnetic particles are just tiny pieces of steel wool I cut up with scissors. The thick fluid suspends them for a long time. The added mica traces little paths as the steel wool bits move about. In retrospect, I would use less mica and wool for better visibility. Here is a link to the mag viewer 'ible (remember, corn syrup and water is what I used in lieu of oil):https://www.instructables.com/id/3D-Magnetic-Field-Viewer/

***Note: A lot of people have suggested using glycerin or Elmer's gel glue to thicken the fluid, but I haven't tested it yet. If you test it, please give us the results in the comments below!  

Step 4: Easy Viewer

Picture of Easy Viewer

For a simple and decent looking container, I used a 1 liter 'smart water' bottle. It's a near perfect cylinder which makes for easy viewing. besides being cheap, it's resilient and makes it good for kids to use. My daughter loves it. I recommend gluing the cap in place. I removed the label, which left a sticky residue. To remove it, my wife rubbed coconut oil and baking soda over it and left it for 5 minutes. After waiting, it wiped perfectly clean with soap and warm water.


Step 5: Final Thoughts

Picture of Final Thoughts

So what can you do with it?

*You can use it in a science fair project to show convection currents or aerodynamics with this lost technique.
*Make a toy for the kids or desk at the office.
*Incorporate it in a prop for a costume or movie.
*Make a killer coffee table like this guy below:

* Update: below is a simple table that most anyone can build in a day or two! Check it out:


I have some other ideas too that I am working on. If you enjoyed this instructable, stay in touch for more. I'd love to hear ideas, suggestions, and answer questions! Have fun!

Comments

gravityisweak (author)2014-04-11

Thanks for the nice background and details of your research. I wonder how this would look when pumped through clear tubing. Do you think metallic particles could be mixed in for fancy magnet play? What would happen if you mixed the mica with both cornstarch and water for a non newtonian fluid?

Omni DIY (author)gravityisweak2014-04-11

Hey, get out of my head haha! I just put some mica in a old magnetic viewer I made.

Another member asked about using oil (which didn't work sadly) to make a thicker fluid. I opted to use corn syrup mixed with water which I used for my magnetic viewer in the past. Instead of making a new batch, I just sprinkled mica into my mag viewer.

To make the magnetic field viewer, take steel wool, cut as small of shavings as humanly possible with scissors, add to water, mix in corn syrup til desired consistency. Next time I won't use as much steel wool or mica for more transparency. I'll have to put this in my additives section...

As for the tubing, I had some 8mm clear vinyl tubing I ran it through. The flow became pretty laminar/boring and it was really transparent. Still, I think with bigger diameter tubing and more mica, it would look cool. Sorry no pics; battery died :(

The non-Newtonian fluid sounds interesting, but I haven't tested that yet. Thanks for the cool ideas :)

burnerjack01 (author)Omni DIY2014-04-13

Won't the steel wool shavings rust and lose their magnetic properties after a short time?

No, actually, the two most common forms of iron oxides (rust) are both ferromagnetic, Fe2O3 and Fe3O4 (actually ferrimagnetic, a subclass of ferromagnetism. Fe3O4 occurs naturally as the mineral known as Magnetite (for its obvious properties). Both are used in magnetic recording media and magnetic inks (The black print on US bills is printed in magnetic ink -- you can just barely pull a bill with a strong magnet).

Omni DIY (author)burnerjack012014-04-15

Not sure... I've had mine for months now and it seems to be functioning as good as the day I made it.

aperkins01096 (author)2015-06-14

Great instructable! I'd used "PearlEx" (available at amazon.com: http://amzn.to/1ee2sP5) and it worked quite well - a little went a long way. Also added blue food coloring. Looks great with an LED lighting it from below. Thinking about making a small steel sphere inside of a very smooth sculpey losenge to put in the bottom, then setting it atop a small motor with a magnet to swirl it automatically, but haven't gotten to that one yet. Too many projects, too little time.

snappydragons made it! (author)2014-10-05

making potions for halloween

sonofsid made it! (author)2014-06-18

This let me make a wonderful visual for a pipe lamp (another instructable) that my son and I did. A friend gave me some mica that was too course for the fluid so I put the mica into a plastic ball with some fishing weights and my son and I played catch with it. this powdered the mica pretty quick. The camera does non pick up the swirls well in the pipe lamp but it looks awesome in person! Thanks for the instructable

Omni DIY (author)sonofsid2014-08-10

That's awesome! I'm gonna have to try something like that!

physicsguy137 (author)2017-10-09

The Explora Science Museum in Albuquerque did (does?) have a giant sphere version of this (I'm thinking ~24 inches in diameter) that I was always mesmerized by. Thanks for getting me started on my own.

mjusk2 (author)2017-08-02

I am researching your activity now & collecting the necessary materials to make with my science class as a takehome momento at the end of 2017. Thank you for sharing this information. I will keep you posted, Miranda. (mjusk2@eq.edu.au).

DavidNZ (author)2014-04-14

anyone tried using this in a water cooled computer?

SlickSqueegie (author)DavidNZ2014-04-15

No... But if your looking for something fancy to do to your computer and keep it cool at the same time, check this out

http://www.webmail.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?i...

fill an aquarium tank with mineral oil...

Omni DIY (author)SlickSqueegie2014-04-15

Mineral oil has worse thermal conductivity than water and upgrading parts submerged in mineral oil would be a pain. Plus, that much mineral oil is nearly as expensive as conventional liquid cooling parts. It's cool looking, but it's not too practical in my opinion.

A Whittle (author)Omni DIY2016-10-21

I once saw something similar at a trade show.

A color television chassis (on and working!) in a container of ultra pure water.

Seems pure water is a terrible electrical conductor. Can you guess what the vendor sold? ;)

SlickSqueegie (author)Omni DIY2014-04-15

I agree, I was just giving an idea...

DavidNZ (author)SlickSqueegie2014-04-15

haha thats already on my to do list since seeing one like 6 years ago. cheers :P

Omni DIY (author)DavidNZ2014-04-14

There are products that you can buy which do the same thing. I've looked into the feasibility of using my mix and discovered that even the Mayhem company's coolant has gotten questionable reviews. See thread here: http://forum.overclock3d.net/showthread.php?t=46118

Really, using any thing with a bunch of little particles in it as a coolant is risking some serious issues. It has to be the finest of material so it doesn't settle and create blockages. I would be careful even if you buy it from a company.

MichelleR169 (author)2016-09-22

I know i am late to the game, but i thought i would share. I scoured my town for mica powder and found none. Nor was there any in the towns around me. I finally gave up and ordered it online. One of my local stores grinds down some kind of iron and thus has iron dust they just throw away. It might need to be sifted for consistent sizes, but this may be an interesting addition to your experiment!

That being said, my mica isn't acting the same as yours. I added it to the water and most of it floats. 1/4 tsp creates nothing but slightly sparkly water with floaty bits. I am sad to say the least! I was hoping for a beautiful swirling bottle, and instead, i have a jug of goop. Adding more intensifies the sparkly water, and adds to the floating mess, but does not create the swirling beauty that you have achieved. Inferior mica? Oddly mineralized water? I cannot discover the reason for this. Thoughts are welcome.

ErinM114 (author)2016-08-29

great info here. I had a suggestion, I was here for seeing what was in the fluid, and what the fluid was. I am going to build a "race" gaming computer with liquid cooling, with that kind of cash and clear tubing I want to see the coolant moving. In the reverse the PC coolant could offer some advantages having the polyethylene glycol and other additives keeping microbes at bay. I dig the graphite in a "neon" fluid under black light. when its built I will update.

Noroca (author)2016-08-14

This may have already been mentioned (if so I apologize) but talc will also do the job. It doesn't have quite the same shimmer effect as Mica but it works. Its also way easier and more cheaply found (at least in my experience) in baby powder. You just have to be careful that you get the stuff with talc in it versus the stuff with corn starch in it

Wired_Mist made it! (author)2015-09-21

Thanks for the Idea !

I managed to use your guide for making Rheoscopic fluid to Buid myself a Tesseract !

Just add a pump and some color changing lights for a Sweet looking effect :D

Omni DIY (author)Wired_Mist2016-02-15

Dude! That's awesome! looks like the real deal.

Wired_Mist (author)Omni DIY2016-02-15

Thanks bud !

Yeah it was a wee bit of a challange :P

Btw i've noticed that the Mica has started to clump together in some of my projects Have you had any problems or find a solution?

Omni DIY (author)Wired_Mist2016-02-15

I found that the white mica tends to start sticking the the inside of plastic bottles, but gold doesn't for some reason... It might have to do with the dish soap I add; I think I didn't add any to the gold. Ultimately I don't know why there is a difference though. I guess some experimentation is in order?

AllisonW16 (author)2016-02-14

Hi! I'm hosting a large event, the theme of which is Alchemy. I was doing research to see if it would be possible to do a decently-sized fountain of this stuff, probably dyed gold. What do you think? Would the movement of falling water be enough to agitate the flow? Would this totally destroy a pump? It only has to hold up for about six hours.

314R made it! (author)2016-01-30

Thank you for all the informations.
This is an old light bulb I filled with water, food colouring and mica powder.
The glue is here to make it waterproof. (I wasn't very soft when removing the inside of the bulb.. )
I also filled a little sphere with the same solution, and making it spin like a top looked nice.. but some friends played with it too much and it broke -_-

sadams25 (author)2016-01-27

the main thing to look for is just the titanium dioxide powder. science supply companies should sell it Amazon does Titanium Dioxide 6 Ounces (TiO2) Ultra Fine Milled dry powder in 2 x Screw-top bottles 99.9% Pure https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I581UEE/ref=cm_sw_r_other_awd_yhrQwb720HWAQ

albpara made it! (author)2016-01-20

Just made it and the results are quite impresive!!!! Thanks for the guide

Now I am working on making something cooler than a liquid in a jar, something like a Kalliroscope. I've been investigating and Tetrachloroethylene has a higher boiling point than the water.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetrachloroethylene

Georgeh3 (author)2015-09-03

I can see that this fluid looks great, but I can't see it doing a pump any favors if your making it to run through tubing like a PC build or anything.

rcisneros (author)2015-08-05

If you used a glass mason jar or something similar, you could put a small motor (sealed) in the jar and mount a solar panel on top of the jar so it would swirl on it's own.

Omni DIY (author)rcisneros2015-08-05

I made a magnetic stirrer and it worked fairly well! That way you could use any container. I'll have to post how I did it in detail, but I used an old computer fan, a couple small neo magnets glued to the fan hub, and a 9v battery to test the idea. I used a chopped up piece of coat hanger for the stir bar too. The downside is that it does not yield the motion of just shaking it by hand. You would need a more powerful stirrer than the one I made.

joslin.rashleigh (author)2015-07-02

I LOVE the tutorial don't get me wrong - this, infinity mirrors, kalaeidscopes, all the tutorials for sensory toys totally rock I just have one small criticism of your use of mica. if you had done your research on that you would have learned that mica mines are some of the worst in the world for the workers which includes whole families and children as mica really only comes from a few places. One of the many reasons the make-up industry is so unethical. keep making tripped-out art-toys though :-) peace

Thanks for the info man. Well, there are a few other ways to make rheoscopic particulate that I mentioned such as aluminum, graphite, and ink. Truthfully though, this can be extended to just about any product; solar cells use caustic chems that get dumped into the environment making them worse in the end, diamonds, shoes, etc. I've gotten some pretty nasty chemicals on myself as a jet mechanic and been subjected to deafening noise for 12hrs a day with people that don't care about you or your job. But... I had a job and was able to raise a family with it until I found something better. Anyway, there are a few more options if you're still interested that will avoid the mica industry! :)

Pizzaface (author)2015-06-14

Some mica I'm seeing online says it also contains Titanium Dioxide. Does that matter? It's cheaper ...

skrubol (author)Pizzaface2015-07-02

Titanium dioxide is usually used as a white pigment/UV blocker. Not sure whether it would dissolve in the water, or if it's used to alter the color of the mica.

Green_mantle (author)2015-06-18

Back in the 60s/70s I bought a small rheoscopic octagon (clear plastic top, flexible vinyl bottom, 3/16" thick) at Disney world, and bought another one every time I went there. It was a little different in that it displayed different colors when you pressed on the back to move the liquid. Maybe different colors/types of powder?

RealMaxwell made it! (author)2015-06-18

Couldn't find my food coloring, used a few ounces of blue Gatorade

CarlosV18 (author)2015-06-18

SirYancy (author)2015-06-15

My local science museum, which I used to worked at, has one of those rotating discs full of the fluid. Come to think of it, most science museums I've been to have them. Notably the St. Paul Science Museum.

Anyway, this is awesome and you are awesome.

fkunitz (author)2015-06-15

You can get jars of mica for next to nothing at Hobby Lobby amd Michael's. It's by the stamping/embossing supplies, if I remember correctly.

papadac (author)2014-04-13

I saw a picture of the box for one of the Kalliroscopes that Matisse made. It was for sale on eBay. Anyway, the box has a warning that says that it contains perchloroethylene (a dry cleaning chemical?). I assume this is the liquid used as the medium for the reflective material. Or perhaps some type of preservative. I was wondering if it was thicker than water. Or if you've found an ideal corn syrup/water ratio to give you the best viscosity so the mica doesn't settle. Thanks!

Omni DIY (author)papadac2014-04-14

Yes it was used in dry cleaning fluid. Tetrachloroethylene / perchloroethylene / perch lead to the same article on wikipedia which talks about it.

I'm not sure how it compares to water beyond my visual tests. It's more dense than water, but I don't know its viscosity. It may have a similar viscosity, but higher density(?). I think it performs pretty similarly to water which is why I can only guess about it's original use. Why would he use something dangerous when water looks nearly identical? It was the 60's so those concerns may have not been around yet.

I haven't found the perfect viscosity yet, unfortunately. I've been toying with the idea of making a ball mill to get the mica powder more fine. This alone should help suspend the mica. Hope this helps a little!

starphire (author)Omni DIY2015-06-15

It was used for a few reasons: 1) no risk of bacterial growth marring the display (remember the original flakes were literally fish scales) 2) higher density helps keep particles suspended 3) with a much lower boiling point than water, it could very easily demonstrate thermal convection using a small electric heating element. Many Kalliroscopes were in fact made to hang on a wall, and a heating element along the bottom (with an aluminum backing to spread the heat) provided constant motion in the display even when nobody was interacting with it. Also, of course, in those days it was much more commonly used and readily available - toxicity was known, but fears about using it were much less than today.

papadac (author)Omni DIY2014-04-14

Awesome, thanks, Excogitate! I always get confused about the difference between viscosity and density. I know they're different, but I don't remember how.
Anyway, odd that Matisse used that perchloroethylene - especially given the potential danger associated with it. I'm sure he had a good reason. I'll have to do some more reseatch.
I think I'll stick with water for now and maybe add a bit of glycerin. I like the idea of grind the mica up a bit too. Great instructable! Can't wait to try it out.

Zeebert (author)papadac2014-04-30

Bear in mind, that generation put tetraethyl lead in their gasoline, administered castor oil as punishment, and said cigarettes were good for your nerves... A probable eventual carcinogen was no big deal. It was probably used for three reasons over water: it's inert to air and metal, it readily dissolves organics (emulsifiers, thickeners, other additives), and it's cheap.

I'd like to see the mica suspended in something like mercury, although, light probably wouldn't get past the surface.

Nirgal38 (author)2015-06-14

I work in a museum of natural history and we made an 18" globe using this technique to demonstrate how cloud bands form on gas giant planets. We mounted the whole thing on a turntable so visitors could spin it at different speeds. It's part of our solar system exhibit and it's a tremendous hit!

Thanks for the 'ible that made it all possible.

Wayne TheS (author)2015-06-14

Very well written and presented.....nice job.

killbox (author)2015-06-14

ive had great luck with, Jacquard(tm) Pearl Ex Pigments you can get a variety of colors and they must be mostly mica flake, because they make rehoscopic fluid realy well. and can be found at most craft stores. i really want to make a tank (like an antfarm with obstructions and a pump to flow the fluid.)...

cekayak (author)2015-06-14

There was a shampoo that acted like this. I don't know if you can still buy it.

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