Five Molecules to Help a Muggle Cheat at Hogwarts

Right now, somewhere in the Scottish highlands, the magic school Hogwarts is coming to the end of its third week of term.

For many eleven year-olds the summer passed in disappointment when no owl came tapping at their windows, carrying an acceptance letter to such a prestigious institution. But is there anything Science can do to help these muggle children? Are there any chemicals that can duplicate the effects of Harry Potter’s spells?

Below are five chemistry “cheats” that could turn you into a fully trained wizard. After all, in the immortal words of Arthur C. Clark “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

1. Lumos

Lumos is a spell used by Harry and his friends to light up a room. By casting this spell the users’ wand turns into a powerful torch, a handy tool for mischievous students who fancy a nighttime stroll after curfew.

The scientific property of light emission is called Luminescence. There are several ways to induce the emission of light by a molecule. For example, light could be given off due to a chemical reaction or by applying pressure to a crystal. To replicate the Lumos spell, a type of luminescence called Photoluminescence can be employed. This is a process where light is emitted by a molecule after absorbing a photon; a tiny packet of electromagnet radiation.

There are two types of Photoluminescence: Fluorescence and Phosphorescene

Once it has absorbed a photon, a molecule is described as being in an “excited state”. A fluorescent molecule will then emit light rapidly – a few nanoseconds – after absorption. A phosphorescent molecule emits light much slower, as it crosses between two different excited states.


Fluorescein molecule

An example of a fluorescent molecule is Fluorescein, a popular fluorophore, which is often used in fluorescent dyes.

2. Accio

When you want something in the magical world there is no need to get up and grab it. A simple charm, called the Summoning Charm, will do the job for you in a fraction of the time.

Although we cannot summon every object using muggle techniques, it is possible to make some materials fly towards us through the air. This is achieved using magnetism.

Magnetism is a force of attraction or repulsion that acts due to a magnetic field. A magnet is a material that has been magnetized so that it will produce a permanent magnetic field. Materials which can be made into permanent magnets include iron, nickel and cobalt. In addition to having the potential to become permanent magnets, these metals are also strongly attracted to other magnets. This type of magnetism is described as “Ferromagnetic”.

A magnet made of alnico, an iron alloy. Ferrom...

A magnet made of alnico, an iron alloy (Wikipedia)

There are several other types of magnetism, including paramagnetism and diamagnetism. All materials will exhibit at least one type of magnetism, but most respond so weakly to a magnetic field that it is barely noticeable. Ferromagnetic (and ferrimagnetic) substances are the ones which are traditionally viewed as being magnetic due to their very strong interactions with magnetic fields. The stronger the magnet, the better the attraction.

With a really strong magnet and an object made of iron, you’ll be able to perform a summoning charm as good as any Hogwarts student.

3. Expulso*

This spell causes things to explode. The force of the explosion depends on the person casting it and their intentions.

Muggles perfected the art of blowing things up long ago. Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel prize, is famous for his invention of dynamite. The money he earned from the explosives industry went on to fund the greatest accolade in modern science.

Trinitrotoluene (TNT)

Trinitrotoluene (TNT)

Today, if you want to cause an explosion similar to a magical blast the best chemical to use is Trinitrotoluene, more commonly known as TNT.

Widely used in bombs and by the military, extreme care is recommended if attempting to imitate the Expulso charm using TNT.

*Note: It is unclear whether this spell is taught at Hogwarts, as the only use of it in the Harry Potter series is by a Death Eater.

4. Permanent Sticking Charm

This handy spell causes objects to permanently stay in place. Famous for its use on Mrs Black’s portrait in Grimmauld Place, once cast it cannot be removed.

There are various ways to stick two surfaces together using non-magical methods. Adhesive is the name given to a substance that binds materials together. An adhesive could refer to a glue, cement or paste. Some adhesives are better at sticking particular materials together, for example wood glue is specifically designed for use on wood.

Methyl cyanoacrylate -Super Glue

Methyl cyanoacrylate – Super Glue

One of the best known adhesives is Super Glue. The main ingredient in Super Glue is a molecule called methyl cyanoacrylate. It belongs to a family of adhesive molecules called cyanoacrylate. In its unreacted, liquid form, Super Glue consists of methyl cyanoacrylate monomers. A monomer is a molecule that can react with another molecule to form a polymer in a process known as polymerisation. Super glue polymerises rapidly in the presence of water to form long chains of polymer that bind the two surfaces together.

Care should be taken when using Super Glue – if it comes into contact with human skin the moisture found inside the pores is enough to initiate polymerisation, which means you could end up gluing yourself by accident!

5. Diffindo

Diffindo is used by wizards to cut or rip objects. Scissors may initially seem like the most obvious muggle replacement for this spell, but there is an even  better alternative: Diamond.

Diamond Structure (BBC bitesize)

As the hardest bulk material known to man, diamonds can cut through anything, even glass. Diamond knives are used in medical and scientific tools where incredibly sharp edges are needed.

The source of this hardness comes from diamond’s molecular structure. It is a form of carbon where every carbon atom is bonded to four others via a covalent bond. These bonds are very strong and require a lot of energy to break. Four is the maximum number of atoms you can bond to carbon and in doing so, it causes the atoms arrange themselves into a tetrahedral structure. The diamond crystal forms a giant three-dimensional lattice with covalent bonds throughout. This is what gives diamond its extraordinary hardness.

So there you have it, all you need to succeed at Hogwarts – a few chemical tricks.

With the help of these five molecules even Albus Dumbledore wont believe that you aren’t magical. Now all you need to do is find a way to overcome the Muggle Repellent Charms on the building …

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