The Synergy Ball Page

What's a Synergy Ball? Good question. A Synergy Ball is a model of a tensegrity sphere, which is the basis for much of the geometry of geodesic domes.

I began developing the original prototypes in college during the Spring of 1989 with my good friend, John Atkins. (He was the one who first introduced me to the world of R. Buckminster Fuller and literally changed the course of my life. Thanks, John! :-) )

Rather than using the traditional "sticks and string" method of constructing a tensegrity, which you can see an example of in this image, John and I combined the separate tension and compression elements in order to simplify the design, and construction.

We replaced each 5-element cluster (1 strut and 4 tendons) with a diamond-shaped piece of paper folded lengthwise into a "V". The fold provided the structural stability of the strut, and each edge of the diamond provided the tension elements of the tendons. It also reduced the complexity of the model by a factor of five and made it easy to mass-produce. (For example, the predominant model you see here was reduced from 150 pieces [30 struts + 120 tendons, 60 in each of two sizes] to just 30 struts, with all of the angles and lengths pre-calculated, making assembly a breeze.

"A picture's worth a thousand words", as the saying goes, so let's have a look at a few...

A 90-strut synergy ball, made from copier paper. A double-nested 30-strut mobile, made from diffraction grating backed with either black or red paper. A double-nested 30-strut mobile, made from diffraction grating backed with either black or red paper. A double-nested 30-strut mobile, made from diffraction grating backed with either black or red paper.
90-strut synergy ball and some 30-strut models. Double-nested 30-strut mobile flanked by two 30-strut models. 90-strut and 30-strut synergy balls, both made from copier paper. A 6-strut traditional tensegrity and some 30-strut synergy balls. Double-nested 30-strut mobile and two 30-strut models.

These are models I constructed between 1989 and 1992. They're made of paper, or of diffraction grating (irridescent plastic film) backed with paper.

There is a version of the Synergy Ball being produced commercially by Design Science Toys, Ltd., of Tivoli, NY, USA. (Search for "Synergy Ball".) It is made of heavy recycled cardstock paper and comes in either red/white or blue/white. It's designed to go together with no cutting or pasting.

Over the years, we have discussed the possibility of producing a diffraction-grating model in addition to the red and blue paper models, but were not sure if there would be demand for them. (I personally think they make gorgeous "sun catcher" mobiles and really light up a window with rainbows.) I've also considered producing kits in different sizes so you could nest them like some of the above models, and possibly in other frequencies, such as the more delicate-looking 90-strut model above. If you are interested in seeing such things become available, please drop me a line and let your voice be heard! (Please say which types of models appeal to you, diffraction, different sizes, different frequencies, or some combination of them.) If enough people express an interest, I can work with Design Science Toys to make it happen.

You can order a production model from them by phoning 1-800-227-2316 or 914-756-4221. Or, directly over the web.

There are also other dealers selling Synergy Balls via the web. Here's a search on Google to find some.

Here is a newspaper article that appeared in my hometown paper in 1994 about the Synergy Ball.

And here is a page with a picture of the largest Synergy Ball yet built, by Fernando Sierra and his Industrial Design students at Pontificia Bolivariana University in Colombia.

Patrick Salsbury

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