Superhero sciencePosted: June 18, 2009
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One of the things I love about science is how in some rare cases it can make the seemingly impossible happen. Its something that’s encapsulated in Arthur C Clark’s third law:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
Or as I think should the moto of all engineers and product designers:
“Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.”
Occasionally working in science and actually more often science communication you come across situations where despite knowing exactly how something works it still feels like there is a little bit of real magic in the world. I think this is why a lot of the same people who get in to science also love movies and books about fantasy and the fantastic, regardless of the world or setting they are always looking for things that simple make them think : hell yeah that’s cool!
A while ago we had a visit form Ben Craven, a master of creating magic from science. At a workshop for science communication Ben brought along a bag of his tricks to wow us all. After messing with our sense of colour and got us scrattching our heads with his gravity defying machine (well perhaps intuition defying would be a better description) he allowed us for a brief few minutes to pretend like we where fire wielding superheroes. While I look a little nonchalant about my new super power I think that the expression on Rita’s face conveys how unbelievably cool this felt. Of course the real magic is that it isnt really magic at all. Ben simply bubbled some gas through a soapy water solution to make bubbles full of flammable gas, a little water on our hands to stop them burning and a healthy deposit of the magic bubbles later and you have your very own flaming hand! AWESOME.
Some people will say that knowing the ticks destroys the magic. The same people will usually also tell you that knowing what causes the aurora or why the sunset is the colour it is takes away from their beauty. I know it’s a sentiment that has been expressed before by many people but whenever I get to do things like set my hand on fire it just reminds me of how wrong these people are. The wonder is in the explanation, the magic is in the ability to make something cool happen within the rules of nature not by breaking them … and I always want to know the secret to the magic trick.
Incidentally we are still waiting for our invitation to join the xmen