Science with Harry Potter: The Magic of Motion (Physics)

Charms is a core class and subject taught at both Hogwarts and  Ilvermorny Schools of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is a required subject for all students. Throughout the course, students learn specific wand movements and proper pronunciation of the charms outlined in their course texts.

Levitation

You don’t need a magic wand to create levitating objects. Simple gather a few things from around the house and you will be underway.

1. Levitating Ping Pong Ball

You only need two things to perform this science experiment.

  • Ping pong ball
  • Drinking straw (preferably a bendy straw)

Procedure:

  1. For the best results, use a bendy straw instead of a regular straight straw. Bend the neck 90 degrees so it points straight up. While holding the straw with one hand, hold the ping pong ball over the end.
  2. Blow a constant breath of air into the straw under the ping pong ball.  If the air pressure is strong enough, it will lift the ball off the tip of the straw and the ball should be able to float at least one inch off the straw.

How does it work? Simply put, it’s air pressure.  The air coming from the straw is moving faster than the air around it, and this means that it also has a lower air pressure than the air around it.  The ball is kept within the column of lower air pressure because of the higher-pressure air surrounding it.

2. Static Flyers

In this experiment, if you know how static electricity works, you can make the students at Hogwart’s envy your skills. Here’s a great TEDEd video to get you started, The Science of Static Electricity.

  • Plastic produce bag
  • Balloon
  • Cotton towel

Procedure:

  1. Use a pair of scissors to cut a strip from the open end of the produce bag. Once the strip is cut, you should have a large plastic band.
  2. Blow up the balloon to its full size and tie off the opening end. Rub the the surface of the balloon for 1 minute with the cotton towel.
  3. Flatten the plastic band on the table surface and gently rub the towel on the band for 1 minute.
  4. Hold the plastic band about one foot over the balloon and let go. The plastic band should levitate.

How does it work?

Rubbing the towel against the balloon and the plastic band transfers a negative charge to both objects. The band floats above the balloon because the like charges repel one another. If you really want to impress someone, just tell them that it’s a demonstration of “electrostatic propulsion and the repulsion of like charge.”

In a related demonstration you may have tried picking up small pieces of paper confetti with a charged balloon. Though the paper isn’t charged, it is attracted to the balloon because the negative charge on the balloon repels the electrons in the paper, making them (on average) farther from the balloon’s charge than are the positive charges in the paper.

As something gets farther away, the electrical forces decrease in strength. Therefore, the attraction between the negatives and positives is stronger than the repulsion between the negatives and negatives. This leads to an overall attraction. The paper is said to have an induced charge.

3. Levitating Spiral Orb

One more fun activity is the Levitating Orb. For this one, you’ll need:

  • PVC Tube about 60cm long (a regular balloon will also work)
  • Mylar tinsel (typically used to decorate Christmas trees)
  • Cotton towel (or your clean hair)
  1. Arrange 6 strands of mylar together and tie them together in a knot at one end. Do the same at the opposite end (each knot should be about 15 cm apart). Cut off any excess strands on the ends that protrude beyond the knot.
  2. Charge the PVC tube by rubbing the towel back and forth along the length of the tube for about 30 seconds.
  3. Hold the mylar orb (by the knot) above the charged tube and let it drop and touch the tube.
  4. It should repel away and start floating. If the tinsel keeps sticking to the tube, the tinsel is probably not thin enough and you will need to try another kind of tinsel. You will also need to “recharge” the tube each time.

Projectile Motion

In the Harry Potter movie The Sorcerer’s Stone, Malfoy throws Neville’s remembrall and Harry races after it, making a spectacular catch (all while flying on broomsticks).

Magical Motion ~ Using this film as a starting point, students are immersed in concepts related to projectile motion. They explore the relationships between displacement, velocity, and acceleration.

Projectile Magic ~ In the next lesson, they learn to use equations of linear motion to describe the behavior of a system as a function of time.

This post is part of a five-day hopscotch. Join me each day this week as we dive into each course.

Herbology (Botany)

Care of Magical Creatures (Zoology)

Potions (Chemistry)

Alchemy Astronomy & Divination (Geology)

Magical Motion (Physics) – this post

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥