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Teaching Science With Magic


Teaching Science With Magic

The "Steel Straw" is based on the fact that trapped air makes a straw surprisingly rigid.

On the surface, science and magic probably seem to have little in common. One is an art of deception while the other is an established entity based on hypothesizing, testing, repeatability and theory. But there is science phenomena that appears to be magic as well as magic that is based on science. On this page, I take the “science magic tricks” on the site and group them by their scientific principle. I’m hoping that those who want to demonstrate or teach a particular scientific principle will be able to quickly locate an “experiment” or “trick” that may suit the purpose. To learn more about how I define science magic tricks, you can click here.

To begin, science magic tricks look like "magic tricks," but the secret is a scientific principle - typically from chemistry or physics. You may perform science magic tricks as tricks and keep the secret to yourself, or openly use and explain them to teach a scientific concept. You can also use them as the basis for a lesson or teaching plan for a class.

So here are a subset of the science magic tricks grouped by scientific area.

Surface Tension
Surface tension is the tendency for water molecules to be attracted to each other. It’s the reason why small insects and such can rest on the surface of still water and why, when a glass of water is filled to the brim and small objects are added, you can see the water bowing up over the glass. A great demonstration of surface tension comes in the trick “Floating Metal.”

Floating Metal - In this trick, you cause metal, a paperclip, to float on the surface of water. You first allow others to try and fail. Afterwards, you demonstrate a method where you delicately lay a metal paperclip on the surface of the water - so you don’t break the surface tension - and the clip floats. You can learn it here.

Hygroscopic refers to a property of some materials to hold or absorb water. More technically, the water molecules are held or suspended between the molecules of the holding material.

Vanishing Water - Among the science magic tricks, this one looks the most like a conventional magic trick, that is, until you reveal the scientific secret. Here, you pour some water into a cup and when you turn the cup over, no water pours out. It has apparently vanished. The secret lies in a compound known as sodium polyacrylate, which works like a sponge to absorb water. In fact, the compound mixes with water and forms a solid gel that stays in the cup when you turn it over. This one makes a great lesson as you’ll get a surprised reaction from your spectators, and with their piqued interest, they’ll be all ears as you offer the scientific explanation. You can learn the science magic trick here.

Physiology and Physics
It’s all about reaction time and Newtonian physics. The secret in this trick is that the time for a person to visually process and then respond to an occurrence is longer than the physical phenomena - in this case, a bill dropping to the ground.

Bill Drop Science Magic Trick - In this trick, you challenge a person to try and catch a bill that you drop. This one looks deceptively easy, but because of the science involved, the deck is stacked heavily in your favor. You can learn the science magic trick here.

Air Pressure
Air has presence in atmospheric pressure and when it’s trapped.

Steel Straw - Here, you cause a simple drinking straw to penetrate into an apple. It’s all due to air that is trapped within the straw and allows the straw to become surprisingly rigid. You can learn the science magic trick here.

The field of mathematics is closely aligned with science and it’s not surprising that many science magic tricks are based on mathematics.

The Math Prediction - This is a prediction based on a mathematical principle. Despite the fact that a spectator has freely selected a number, the mathematical processes all lead to the same end number. More technically, the mathematical secret involves reversing a three-digit number and subtracting the smaller from the larger, which will always result in a middle number that is equal to nine. Further mathematical processes cancel out the other numbers in the hundredths and ones columns.

Wheel Magic Science Trick - This trick, which relies on a magician-style force, which always makes the spectator land on the same shape, no matter what number he or she started with. Because of the process, which relies on counting and removing a set number of shapes, the spectator is always led to the same shape. Try it out and then see how it works with different numbers. As described in the trick write-up, you can also perform this with objects such as coins. You can learn the science magic trick here.

Optical Illusions
Magicians love to perform with phenomena that tricks the eyes. These tricks rely on optical illusions and are easily explained.

The Boomerang - This science magic trick relies on the fact that the eye can’t adequately compare the relative lengths of two different objects. More specifically, the human eye always wants to compare the smaller inner diameter of the top boomerang against the larger outer diameter of the bottom boomerang, even though the objects are the exact same size. It’s quite convincing. You can learn the science magic trick here.

The Tube - This science magic trick warps perspective and allows for the formation of a secret compartment that goes unnoticed. It’s quite deceptive. You can learn the science magic trick here.

For more science magic tricks, please click here.

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