As indicated in our title “Is It Chemistry or Magic”, we use chemical magic in our presentation. However we are not chemical magicians! What’s the difference? Chemical magic is strictly “sleight of hand”. As in traditional magic, the object is to fool the audience. People love magic. Why? First, it’s entertainment. Magic is one of the oldest performing arts. Second, the awe and wonder of a magic trick attracts the audience.
In our presentation, we use these two points to get their attention. What is the common response after doing a magic trick (especially with a young audience)? “How did you do that?” When we get that response, we are thinking: “gotcha!”
As opposed to traditional magicians, we show our audience how the trick is done. This allows us to talk about the chemistry of the demonstration. Isn’t that what it’s all about? The magic is the chemistry.
Once we have the attention and interest of the audience by doing some chemical magic tricks in the initial part of our program, we then proceed to more traditional yet entertaining demonstrations. Toward the end of our presentation we transition to more serious (well, not too serious) demonstrations that illustrate practical aspects of our demonstrations.
For example, I (JW), an analytical chemist, demonstrate how the reaction between vitamin C and iodine can be used to analyze the vitamin C content of fruit juices. Otis, an organic chemist, after doing the Genie in the Bottle demonstration, explains how catalysts are used to convert a barrel of oil into usable materials. Wow, this is some serious chemistry, but it started with chemical magic.
One time, when we were setting up for a presentation in a science discovery museum, the manager came to us. After noticing our title, he told us, “We do not allow magic in this museum.” We thought we were going to be asked to leave. However, after explaining our philosophy, he relented, and he even applauded at the end.
Check out our signature chemical demonstration which we do toward the beginning of the program. Can you now answer the question: Is It Chemistry or Magic?