The Atomix (pronounced atom-mix rather than atomics) is both a fascinating and beautiful toy, and also a good model of the arrangement of atoms in simple materials.
It consists of a 5 inch square acrylic block, 1 inch thick, containing a large number of tiny ball bearings. By tilting, rotating or tapping Atomix, the 'atoms' will assume a variety of interesting close-packed structures.
Atomix was originally created by the Montreal artist Francois Dallegret in the 1960s, and it can be found in the Design Collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. The New York Times said "Making instant Art... ATOMIX is hypnotic!" New Scientist wrote "Marvellous to look at... ATOMIX also simulates the process of atomic diffusion."
When Atomix is in the vertical plane, the ball bearings or spheres assume positions of close packing in response to gravity. Careful rotary manipulation can result in the formation of a single 'crystal'. However normally the 'crystal' will nearly always contain defects, some of which represent the defects in real crystals very nicely. These include grain boundaries and stacking faults.
Shaking Atomix causes electrostatic charges between the acrylic surfaces and the spheres, and this causes repulsion between the spheres. This is why you can see a few ball bearings floating above the surface. This demonstrates rather nicely a solid-vapour interface.
The model can be projected onto a screen using a projector.
When used in the horizontal position, Atomix can be used to demonstrate some properties of simple liquids.
Alternatively you can simply view Atomix as a beautiful and extraordinary object!
Atomix comes in a smart presentation box, and we also include an article about the atomic structures that it simulates.