Physics of Magic
Dr. Dave Wall
City College of San Francisco
Physics demonstrations and magic tricks may share characteristics. Many a
good physics demonstration produces unexpected results and many a good magic
trick is based on obvious physical principles. The author will present
a number of physics demonstrations dressed up as magic tricks and will use
some obvious and some not-so-obvious performance magic (1) in explaining
physical principles. Although no great secrets of magic will be revealed,
the optical principles behind a whole class of
magical effects will be demonstrated and discussed. The
author, who is co-author of a textbook at the introductory level (2), regularly
co-teaches workshops for physics teachers (3) on the use of performance magic
in the classroom. He is an emeritus professor of physics at the City College
of San Francisco and an adjunct professor of physics at the University of
Arkansas. The present road show has evolved from the Physics of Magic and
Vice Versa (4), a paper he presented at the American
Association of Physics Teachers meeting in Anaheim, California, in 1975.
(1) Performance magic is the honest kind performed by stage magicians as
opposed to the supernatural kind sometimes invoked by frauds and con artists.
Honest magicians have a tradition, dating from the days of Harry Houdini,
of debunking those frauds who use performance magic to deceive people and
take their money under false pretenses.
(2) Introductory Physics, A Problem Solving Approach, Jesse David Wall and
Elender Wall, Analog Press, San Francisco, ISBN 1-890493-04-X
(3) Tom Zeph and I have been invited to present this popular workshop at
AAPT national meetings over five times. The latest version was at the Albuquerque
meeting. Our workshop is always the first to fill of all the workshops offered.