Science & Tech

Magic Happens When You Mess Around with Science

Magic takes science to a new level of entertainment.

Magic takes science to a new level of entertainment.

Magic takes science to a new level of entertainment.

Like all Nerds, my girls RocketteGirl and Lightning McQueen enjoy stretching their creative minds. One of their favorite forms of noggin exercise is magic – both watching and performing it. So, recently we surprised the girls by taking them to see well-known magician Michael Carbonaro perform at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC.

On his truTV Network show, Carbonaro is a magician gone undercover. He portrays himself as an equal “victim” to the tricks he inflicts on an assortment of unassuming citizens, new hires, and store patrons. Carbonaro effectively dupes his marks with great set-up stories, lots of charm, and just enough pseudo-technical explanation and salesmanship to make the outlandish seem perfectly plausible. That is, at least to anyone not in on the trick.

During his “live” stage show, he invited a volunteer onstage and performed a trick so that everyone else in the audience could see it playing out. While the volunteer was blown away by Carbonaro’s close-up illusion, the rest of us were allowed a “peek behind the curtain,” which provided a different kind of appreciation for the trick. Now the magician’s partners in crime, we in the audience roared with laughter from beginning to end.

Humorous slight-of-hand like Carbonaro’s not only amazes and entertains, but it also sparks curious minds to investigate and think critically about what they’ve experienced. For Nerds, magic can be another way to explore the realm of possibility while learning how to separate fact from fiction.

Michael Carbonaro turns scientific method on its head for the sake of magic. Michael Carbonaro turns scientific method on its head for the sake of magic.

Was that real? Where did the rabbit go? How did they do that? How does Santa make to everyone’s house in one night? (Caution: questioning magic may also have unintended consequences like raising other questions some parents may not be equipped or ready to answer!)

Science and magic have always represented two sides of the same scientific method coin. What most of us forget – or choose to dismiss for the sake of entertainment – is that, during the trick/experiment, magicians are covertly tinkering with the variables and skewing the “data.” Good magicians create the results they want without giving anything away in the process.

Great illusionists, like Carbonaro, can simply turn the scientific method on its ear. Some often do it multiple times during the same trick. They know the results before the experiment even begins. And, even while the audience is still in the middle of observing in order to form its hypothesis, Carbonaro is crazy good at selling the results.

This is why I like his brand of magic so much. With humor and story, it connects on more than one level. Not just a fleeting “ooh, ahh – did you see that?” He is able to create a longer-lasting impact. His magic seems to serve the greater purpose of inspiring others to figure out how the world works and how it could work.

Do your Nerds dig magic and everyday science? Here are a few simple, science-magic experiments you can do with them:

  1. Learn how to make tarnish on your coins disappear with lemon juice here, vinegar here, or carefully take it up a notch with electrolysis here!
  2. Go fishing for ice and learn how salt affects the freezing point of water here (courtesy of The Science Kiddo blog).
  3. Learn how to cook up some homemade slime with this easy recipe here (courtesy of
  4. See how clouds really hold water…until they don’t here (courtesy of Learn with Play at Home blog).
  5. Lightning bugs are fun in summer, but why not conjure up some actual lightning – safely – here (courtesy of the Learn – Play – Imagine blog).

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