These 11 Physics Experiments Are Indistinguishable from Magic

Science demonstrations remind us of the breathtaking principles of physics that surround us at all times.
Chris Young
The photo credit line may appear like this1, 2, 3

Famous sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." We would also argue that anyone with sufficiently advanced knowledge of physics is indistinguishable from a magician.

Whether it's seemingly forming a tornado out of thin air, making a ball levitate, or peeling fruit in a split second, the laws of physics can make for a great show. Here are some of the best examples we could find.


1. The Magnus Effect

This individual used the Magnus effect with such precision that it looks like he sent a homing missile towards a basketball hoop rather than a backspinning basketball.

As can be seen in the video below, a basketball, any ball or cylindrical object for that matter, can have a surprising trajectory when dropped with a certain amount of spin. This is the Magnus effect.

the Magnus effect in action from r/physicsgifs

The Magnus effect is caused by the difference in pressure on either side of the ball caused by spinning as it falls through the air. The phenomenon was named after Heinrich Gustav Magnus, the German physicist responsible for investigating the effect.

2. The quickest way to peel an orange

Peeling oranges and tangerines takes precious seconds out of our daily routines. Ok, so this is a lazy lifehack if ever there was one. It does, however, show the effects that compressed air can have inside a small space.

How To Peel An Orange from r/physicsgifs

While this method isn't likely to work on every attempt, Youtuber William Osman 2 put it to the test, and showed that it is, in fact, a fairly airtight way, ahem, to peel your fruit.

3. A Coca-Cola rocketship

We've all seen those Mentos and Coca-Cola experiments before, but have you ever seen the effects of adding butane gas into a Coca-Cola bottle? The effects are explosive to say the least.

Coke + butane gas = ? from r/physicsgifs

Butane is a nonpolar liquid at low temperatures, but it boils at about zero degrees celsius. When it is mixed with relatively warm Coca-Cola butane gas is created, leading to the rocket-like reaction seen in the video above. 

4. Electrical patterns

Lichtenberg burning, as describes, sees people apply an electrically conductive solution onto a piece of wood and then run high voltage electricity through it using a transformer and two probes.

Experimenting with electricity! from r/woodworking

The patterns created on the wood, known as Lichtenberg or fractal burns, are often created for their aesthetic appeal. It is important to note, however, that this experiment involves potentially lethal high voltage electricity and should not be tried at home.

5. A levitation trick?

In the field of fluid dynamics, Bernoulli's principle — named after mathematician Daniel Bernoulli — states that an increase in the speed of a fluid occurs at the same time as a decrease in the fluid's potential energy.

It is an integral principle in aerodynamics, as it describes how an aircaft can achieve lift due to the shape of its wings.

Bernoulli's principle from r/physicsgifs

It can also be used for a more simple levitation trick. The fast air moving around the cylindrical duct tape is at a lower pressure than the surrounding air. The surrounding higher pressure air makes the object seemingly float in mid-air.

6. Bernoulli's principle is at it again

We just had to add this one in here too. Bernoulli's principle is once again used here to impressive effect, thanks to a leaf blower, a basketball, and a hoop.

After many requests here is the attempt to make it. from r/blackmagicfuckery

The levitation-like effects of the surrounding air pressure are on full display here as the ball is kept in place even with air being blown at it from an angle.

7. Static flight

Another way to seemingly make objects fly using science is via the Van de Graaff generator.

The Van de Graaff generator can be assigned to give a positive or negative charge. When it is turned on, any objects with the same charge will be repelled, as can be seen in the video below.

Static power! from r/blackmagicfuckery

The aluminum bowls placed on top of the generator have the same charge as the generator, causing them to be repelled and go flying into the air.

8. Constant velocity

The video below cleverly demonstrates the principle of constant velocity. The same principle explains why a person can jump inside a fast-moving vehicle such as a train or an airplane without going flying to the back of it. They are moving at the same speed as the vehicle.

Demonstration Of Constant Velocity With A Moving Trampoline from r/physicsgifs

Of course, factors such as wind resistance can play an important role. That's why this trampoline demonstration was carried out using a slow-moving tractor.

9. Visualizing sound with physical objects

Did you know you can levitate very small objects using soundwaves? In fact, a group of researchers has even created a very clever "tactile" hologram using this principle.

In the video below you can see how sound waves are being used levitate small pellets in midair.

Levitating small objects using sound waves from r/physicsgifs

Or, low-frequency beats can be used to create this amazing visual effect on the smoke from a vape pen.

Speakers’ effect on vapor from r/physicsgifs

There is a multitude of experiments that can be carried out that allow us to visualize sound.

10. Angular momentum visualized with a Hoberman sphere

Hoberman spheres are excellent tools for demonstrating the conservation of angular momentum.

In the video below, Utah State University’s Professor Boyd F. Edwards spins the expanded Hoberman sphere, before pulling a string that makes it contract. This causes the spheres angular momentum to increase.

Hoberman sphere conservation of angular momemntum from r/physicsgifs

As Khan Academy points out, the conservation of angular momentum means that angular momentum is constant for an object with no net external torque.

This means that objects can change their shape and still conserve their angular momentum, as displayed by Professor Edwards and his Hoberman sphere.

11. Making an indoor tornado

You most likely know that adding dry ice to hot water creates a lot of smoke. As this smoke looks spooky and fog-like it has traditionally been used in theatre to set the tone or mimic weather for spooky scenes. 

But did you know that using dry ice, hot water, and several fans is all you need to make an indoor tornado? Just take a look at the video below.

Making an indoor tornado from r/interestingasfuck

Put the fans on their highest settings, point them upwards and you're all set. Film it wearing a robe, a magician's hat and keep the fans out of shot, and all of your friends will think you're a bonafide wizard.

As Albert Einstein once put it, "there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Physics teaches us how to understand the incredible principles and 'miracles' that constantly surround us. Some of these are so complex that we may never fully understand them — all we can do is marvel at them.


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