Don’t Call it Magic: Mixing Muggles and Chemistry

Don’t Call it Magic: Mixing Muggles and Chemistry

Was your soul crushed when you closed the seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and you were reminded by everything around you that magic isn’t real (and even if it is you’re a muggle so you wouldn’t know)?


The Alpha Chi Sigma (AXE) chemistry fraternity at the College of Charleston makes Harry Potter magic come to life. Well, not magic exactly. AXE brothers would call it chemistry. They will perform shows for elementary-school students to get them interested in science. The next shows are February 27, 2014 at 9:30 and 10:15 a.m. in the School of Sciences and Mathematic Building (202 Calhoun St.), as part of the second annual STEM Education Day.


[Related: Learn more about the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry]


Harry Potter fans will recognize many of the spells and potions from the series, and AXE will also throw in some original magic that could seamlessly fit into Professor Severus Snape’s Advanced Potion Making textbook. Tricks will include, among others, conjuring the green flames from the goblet of fire by burning copper (II) chloride salt in methanol, creating a black snake from sugar, baking soda and ethanol by lighting the mixture on fire. The baking soda produces carbon dioxide gas, while the sugar creates carbon-containing ash. Tthe substance swells from heat exposure, increasing its volume and decreasing its density, thus causes the plume of ash to expand in size and look like a black snake.



“My favorite trick is ‘Fluffy’s Toothpaste,’” Mai-Trinh Pham, biochemistry major and AXE outreach coordinator said. “We use hydrogen peroxide and soap, rapidly turning them into water and oxygen, to produce a giant swirl that looks like toothpaste. We tell the kids it’s for Rubeus Hagrid’s three-headed dog.”


For Pham, Harry Potter magic isn’t all fun and games. It’s a way to be involved on campus, while preparing to enter medical school after her May 2014 graduation. Despite the academic rigors and pressure of a pre-medical-school undergraduate education, Pham and her fraternity brothers, many of whom also have their sights set on the field of medicine, enjoy the lighthearted nature of the shows.


[Related: See the colored flames in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film]


“We have all seen the Harry Potter films, and we love the concept of doing a magic show that is relatable to our audience,” Pham said.


Harry Potter magic shows have been an AXE tradition for several years, and brothers appreciate the opportunity to share their knowledge and passion for the chemistry and biochemistry with a diverse range of viewers. After each trick, from emerald flames to growing blobs of toothpaste, AXE members explain the chemistry behind the “magic.”


In addition to the magic shows, AXE members also provide chemistry tutoring services and volunteer for Miracle League, Ronald McDonald House, Hope Lodge and Neighborhood House.


The shows on February 27 will take place as part of the College’s second-annual Sciences-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics (STEM) Education Day, hosted by the women’s basketball team and the School of Sciences and Mathematics. Following the magic shows, nearly 5,000 students will go to the TD Arena (301 Meeting St.) to participate in STEM experiments and watch the women’s basketball team take on CAA opponent James Madison University at 11:30 a.m.


For more information, contact Mai-Trinh Pham at