On July 21, the first day of the Harry Potter Magical Science Tour, a weeklong day camp offered by Santa Clara’s Parks and Recreation Department, participants learned how to make miniature crystal trees and marshmallow candy wands. Then they headed out to the lawn to play Quidditch, a sporting game in the fictional wizarding world.
“Because the Harry Potter books have so much fantasy in them, it’s nice to relate science to some of the magic done in there,” says Rachel Carion, teacher of the class. “Whereas they use magic, we can use science to get almost the same conclusion.”
Carion shares a number of activities tying science to the fantasy world of Harry Potter.
“We have an activity that’s called ‘color changing milk,'” she says. “We pour some milk on the bottom of a plastic plate. Then we add [drops of food coloring]. We get a Q-tip and we push it into the middle of the milk. There’s no reaction yet. Now we get another Q-tip and we place the Q-tip in liquid dish soap, and we take the Q-tip with the soap on it and put that in the milk. When we do that, the food coloring bursts, and it looks like fireworks in the milk. This activity explores chemical bonds, and so we’d talk about how this would be useful for Harry Potter and his friends to know about.”
“Here’s an example of how acids and bases work: we have golden rod paper and students can write something down on the paper with vinegar, an acid, and then they can go over it with a mixture of baking soda and water, a base, and their message will disappear,” Carion continues. “This experiment is similar to the situation Harry Potter had with the Marauder’s Map, a map that’s blank to the naked eye but with a spell, images would appear and disappear on it.”
The kids in the day camp also experienced illusions with special cards, where an accordion piece of paper vaguely displayed Potter’s happy and sad faces. Once the piece of paper was cut down flat, kids could clearly see the face’s true expression. In a potions workshop, kids examined some unlabeled sodas and beverages. They labeled the “potions” by new names and decided which mystical properties each drink had.
“The intent of this program is to make science fun, educational, and hands-on for kids of the elementary school age,” says Neil Schulman, owner of Sciensational Workshops for Kids, Inc., the New Jersey-based company that oversees the Potter-themed camp. “This is the seventh or eighth year of us doing the Harry Potter Magical Science Tour nationally [and our first year doing a camp in Santa Clara]. We’re putting together a science camp next year around the movie, Frozen.”