Once as a boy a magician took an inflated balloon with a string and held it in front of me. He waved his hand around the balloon stating static electricity has a strange effect on balloons. To illustrate he handed me the balloon, took a piece of note paper and tore it into tiny pieces which he laid on the table.
"Watch this," the magician said as he took back the balloon. He said we had to charge the balloon. Of course I asked how far away I should stand to run at it. He didn't laugh at my joke. Instead he said, "We charge the balloon with static electricity by rubbing it on your hair." Obviously when I was younger I had much more hair and this frenetic rubbing for 15 or 30 seconds didn't hurt but it felt weird.
I noticed as he pulled the balloon away, my light blond hair was attracted to it which intrigued me. I was really impressed when he held the balloon over the scraps of paper and they jumped to the balloon as if attracted by magic.
"That's just the beginning," he said with a flourish as he produced a second balloon from his cape. "Rub the balloon quickly against your hair for 15 or 20 seconds again." I did as he requested and he did the same with the second balloon which also had a string attached to it. "Watch this," he said as he held the second balloon by the string and instructed me to do the same with the first one.
As we both held our balloons so they dangled freely from the strings, he moved his close to mine and the balloons separated. He moved it away and then moved it back to the first balloon and again the balloons separated. This time he took a flyer lying on the table and placed it between the two balloons and the balloons both jumped toward the paper. After a few seconds, he removed the paper and like a bolt of lightning, both balloons repelled from each other yet again.
"And that's not all," he said. "All of that electricity has made the balloons temporarily invulnerable. Watch."
From his coat he removed a hat pin and holding the second balloon now by the valve, he took the hat pin and shoved it into the balloon from the back. I was dumbfounded when it did not pop. He removed it and shoved it into a second spot and removed it a second time. At that point, he told me the electrical charge was rapidly weakening and when he stabbed it the third time it popped.
As it popped, he bid me farewell and disappeared into the crowd leaving me with a balloon and an amazed look on my face.
Today's column features a trio of effects with a pair of balloons. To perform this mix of science and magic you need two balloons, string to tie on them, some cellophane tape, a piece of paper and a long sharp smooth hat pin. It is critical the pin has no barbs or rough parts along its shaft.
To prepare, first blow up the balloons. Use contrasting colors to tell them apart. Take two pieces of cellophane tape and tape them in different places on one of the balloons. Remember which color you gimmicked with the tape. It is important the tape you use is invisible cellophane and when you apply it, do your best to smooth it onto the balloon so it blends in as best as it can. You may need to experiment with balloon colors to see which one hides the tape best.
You can either perform the effect as described or begin with the blown balloons on your table or tied to a chair and have a few pieces of paper and the pin sitting on the table.
The first pair of effects are simply demonstrations of static electricity that work because the rubbing of the balloon on your hair charges the balloon with electrons which are then released during the second half of each experiment.
For the first one, simply tear the paper into small pieces no more than inch in size. Have the spectator rub the normal balloon on his hair for 15 or 20 seconds. The thicker the hair, the better for these effects. Hold the balloon over the paper and it will jump on the balloon, then jump off and the paper will appear to dance under the balloon. If this does not occur immediately, instruct the spectator to rub the balloon faster and harder on his or her head, then repeat.
The second effect is automatic as well. If both balloons are charged and held by their respective strings, they will naturally jump away from each other. The paper placed in between them will attract them and they will move to the paper. Remove the paper and the balloons will separate again.
These two effects should be practiced before performing so you know how long it takes to charge the balloons as well as how long the effect lasts. The weather and temperature will affect both of these variables so you definitely need to test them first.
The last effect is the easiest and requires more acting. Simply push the pin into the tape without letting the spectator see the patches of tape. The tape will keep the balloon from popping and when you pull it out and repeat, the air will slowly be expelled from the balloon which is the reason for popping it when you are done.
Practice these effects and have some fun.
Til next time, stay cool…