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Magic Show Highlights
Fall 2010-Spring 2011

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Ketchup Diver
A clear plastic soft drink bottle is filled with water and an ordinary packet of ketchup or sweet-and-sour sauce, which floats in the bottle.  The packet of sauce floats because there is a bubble of air inside it.  When the bottle is squeezed, the packet sinks, because the bubble of air in the packet is compressed to a density greater than that of the water.  When the pressure is released, the air expands, causing the packet to float.

Video:  FLV, 3.38 MB

Elephant Toothpaste
A solution of sodium iodide is added to a mixture of soap, 30% hydrogen peroxide, and a little food coloring.  The sodium iodide causes the hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to decompose into water (H2O) and oxygen gas (O2).  The gas which is produced blows the soap into a large volume of foam, which looks like a large amount of toothpaste (hence the name "elephant toothpaste").
Video:  FLV, 14.6 MB

Video:  FLV, 1.58 MB

 
 
 
Egg Density
In the first cylinder on the left, an egg sinks in pure water, because the egg is more dense than water.  In the third cylinder from the left, an egg floats in a solution of salt water, because the egg is less dense than the salt water solution.  In the second cylinder, pure water has been carefully layered on top of salt water, and the eggs "levitates," sinking through the pure water, but floating on the salt water; the egg stays suspended between these two solutions for a long time.
In the last cylinder, the egg is placed in a solution of hydrochloric acid; the egg sinks at first, but then floats as the calcium carbonate in the eggshell reacts with the hydrochloric acid, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide gas which stick to the eggshell.  In the picture at the left, the egg is in the process of rising back to the top of the liquid.
Video:  FLV, 23.8 MB
The "Old Nassau" Clock Reaction
Three clear, colorless solutions are mixed.  After about 20-30 second, a bright orange solution forms, and after about another 30 seconds, it turns a dark purple.  The orange color is produced when a reaction between sodium bisulfite (NaHSO3) and potassium iodate (KIO3) produces iodide ions (I-), which react with mercury(II) chloride (HgCl2) to produce mercury(II) iodide (HgI2), which forms an orange precipitate that is suspended in the solution.  Once the mercury(II) ions are used up, the excess iodide ions react with the remaining iodate ions to produce molecular iodine (I2), which reacts with starch in the solution to form a dark purplish-black color.
This reaction is often known as the "Old Nassau clock" reaction because the colors that are produced are the school colors of Princeton University, where the reaction was discovered.  (One of the original buildings on the Princeton campus is Nassau Hall, the administration building).
Video:  FLV, 2.04 MB
Hydrogen and Oxygen Balloons
A match is touched to a balloon filled with pure oxygen (O2) gas.  However, all that happens is that the balloon pops:  oxygen itself is not flammable, and does not really have anything to react with to cause a combustion reaction to occur.

Video:  FLV, 3.64 MB

A match is touched to a balloon filled with hydrogen gas (H2), which explodes as it reacts with oxygen (O2) in the air (think Hindenburg, except on a smaller scale).
Video:  FLV, 1.49 MB

Video:  FLV, 1.76 MB

Guncotton
A small amount of cotton, previously soaked in a mixture of nitric acid and sulfuric acid and then rinsed and dried, is ignited, producing a short-lived but impressive fireball.  (Click here for more details.)
Video:  FLV, 7.71 MB

Video:  FLV, 0.92 MB

Video:  FLV, 1.77 MB

Video:  FLV, 1.08 MB

Video:  FLV, 1.08 MB

Video:  FLV, 1.04 MB

 
 
Non-Burning Dollar
A dollar bill is soaked in a 50:50 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water.  When set on fire, the alcohol burns off, but the water prevents the dollar bill from catching on fire.  (Usually having "money to burn" means something else entirely!)
Video:  FLV, 2.60 MB
Video:  FLV, 5.84 MB
 
Colored Flames
A small amount of methanol is added to glass dishes containing five different metal salts.  When the methanol is burned, a different color flame is produced in each dish by the hot metal salts.  The dish at the far left contains boric acid, which burns with a green flame.  The second dish contains a copper salt, which burns with a blue-green flame.  The third dish contains a strontium salt, which burns with a red flame.  The fourth dish contains a potassium salt, which burns with a violet flame.  The last dish contains a sodium salt, which burns with a yellow flame.
The burning methanol heats the metal salts, causing some of their electrons to go into higher energy levels (called excited states).  When the electrons go back to the ground state, they release this energy in the form of photons of light; the color of light that is emitted by each metal is caused by the energy differences between these two states. 

This same property is exploited in fireworks, where an explosive scatters metal salts and heats them, producing lots of different colors.

Video:  FLV, 1.71 MB
 

 

Luminol Chemiluminescence
A solution containing luminol is mixed with a solution of hydrogen peroxide in a glass funnel with a length of clear tubing attached.  A chemical reaction occurs which produces light.  (Click here for more details.)
Video:  FLV, 1.89 MB
 
 
 
Liquid Nitrogen
One demonstration that is always popular involves liquid nitrogen.  A bunch of balloons are immersed in liquid nitrogen, which causes the air in the balloons to contract.  When the balloons are removed from the liquid nitrogen, the air inside the balloons warms back up and expands, causing the balloons to re-inflate (and usually pop).
Video:  FLV, 11.3 MB
 
 
 
 
 
 
Normally pliable materials, such as a rubber glove, become brittle when cooled in liquid nitrogen, and shatter like glass when struck.

Video:  FLV, 4.67 MB

Organic material, in this case a banana, freeze solid when cooled to liquid nitrogen temperatures.

(Banana split!)

Video:  FLV, 5.09 MB

 
Here, we're destroying flowers frozen in liquid nitrogen.

(She really loves me not!)

Video:  FLV, 3.36 MB

 
Pouring liquid nitrogen on the floor causes the liquid nitrogen to evaporate almost instantly, cooling off the surrounding air, and causing water vapor to condense, creating a nice fog effect.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Polymers Nylon
A solution of sebacoyl chloride dissolved in hexane is carefully layered on a solution of 1,6-diaminohexane dissolved in water.  At the interface between the two liquids, a film of nylon forms, which can be fished out as a continuous nylon rope.
Video:  FLV, 1.84 MB
 
 
 
Ethanol Popgun
A small amount of ethanol is placed in a plastic bottle with two nails driven through either end so that they are not quite touching each other.  The bottle is then shaken, stoppered, and touched with a Tesla coil, which sends an electric spark through the nails, causing the ethanol to ignite, and blow the stopper off the bottle.
Video:  FLV, 3.22 MB
 
 
(still from video)
Jet Engine
A small amount of an alcohol is placed in a large plastic bottle, which is then shaken vigorously to get some of the liquid to vaporize.  The remaining liquid is then poured out.  A lit match is then placed in the bottle, and the alcohol vapor burns vigorously, producing a roar like a jet engine.
Video:  FLV, 2.97 MB
When the demonstration is over, the oxygen which had been in the bottle has been used up, and replaced by carbon dioxide gas and water vapor, which are not flammable.  To repeat the experiment, it is necessary to use a fresh bottle.  (After a few hours, the gases in the bottle dissipate, and the bottle can be reused.)
Video:  FLV, 3.53 MB
(still from video)
Grain Elevator Explosion
A yellow powder called lycopodium powder (a pollen from a species of pine) does not burn when a lit match is dropped into it.  When the same dust is blown past a candle flame, now all of the particles are surrounded by oxygen, and the powder burns vigorously.  This is an illustration of what happens in a grain elevator explosion.  (Click here for more details.)
 
Video:  FLV, 2.71 MB
Hydrogen-Oxygen Balloons
The balloons in the following video clips contain mixtures of approximately two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen.  When lit, the hydrogen and oxygen react, producing water and a deafening explosion.  This explosions are more vigorous than those of the pure hydrogen balloons, because the fuel (H2) is already well-mixed with the oxidizer (O2).
Video Clip:  FLV, 4.12 MB 
All of these pictures are frame grabs from the video clip I've never been fast enough (or steady enough) on the camera to get an H2-O2 balloon at the instant of explosion.
 
 
Balloon #2
 
 
 
 
Balloon #3