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The science of magic

science-alive3What’s the difference between magic and science?

Not much! In fact, all magic tricks are based on scientific principles. Scientists aren’t very good at keeping secrets though – the processes of what they’ve done are often just as important as the answers they discover.

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Here are a few magic tricks that we can explain to kids with some basic science;

The human brain is very complicated and clever, but it can also be tricked quite easily. An illusion is an image that fools our brains into thinking one thing instead of another thing. Magicians often use distractions (like waving their hands about) to make us focus on that one thing, whilst they trick us by doing another.

science-alive2Here is a great example of an illusion that you can show your kids: your brain will understand and process it is a picture of a duck, until you turn it to the side and then you will see a rabbit. Once you’ve seen both animals, you can only focus on one at a time. It will always look like either a rabbit or a duck, but not both – it’s an illusion that has confused your brain!

Invisible ink
Chemistry is full of surprises and always a great way for kids to explore basic ideas with hands-on activities. Invisible inks have been used for hundreds of years, with people using sweat and even spit to write secret messages to each other. There are many types of invisible ink but a great one to use at home is milk and heat.

Invisible milk message


A small cup of milk
A paintbrush or cotton-bud
A piece of paper
An iron
An ironing board or towel and flat space

Milk ink effectively weakens parts of the paper. Those parts are then quicker to burn than the paper itself so the message in ink turns brown and the rest of the paper remains white. The milk message will dry almost completely invisible until you burn it with the iron to reveal the secrets!

1.    Take your paintbrush or cotton bud and dip it into the milk.

2.    Write a message or draw a picture onto your paper.

3.    Wait for the paper to dry – the message should be invisible.

4.    Then turn your iron on, making sure you’ve turned it to dry mode – we don’t want any steam.

5.    Once it is hot enough, place the piece of paper message side down on the ironing board or towel, and place the iron on the paper for about 10 seconds.

6.    You’ll begin to smell the milk burning: you can check the bottom of the paper to see if it has browned enough. If not, place the iron back down on the paper for another 10 seconds.

7.    Be careful not to heat the paper for too long, or you’ll ignite it.

8.    Always make sure you supervise iron use around children; they can take a while to cool after turning them off so make sure they’re out of reach.

9.    Your secret message will be revealed and will cool very quickly.

Science Alive are exclusively providing at-home science experiments to Family Times. For more, visit Science Alive’s blog at www.ScienceAlive.co.nz.

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