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Giving science in the spirit of the holidays

For years, I spent the holidays in a state of listlessness. Without a car, I’m unable to find a way home to visit my family for Christmas, and all of my friends went home to theirs. I found my sanity and solution to the listlessness in giving science at a local hospital children’s ward.

The idea started 2 weeks before Christmas when the university let out for winter break. I went to the library to peruse the books that I’d have time to read for the next lonely 3 weeks, when I came across “Magic Science Tricks” by Dinah Moché. It is a very small book that is nearly overlooked on the shelf, but it is full of magic tricks built around science. For instance, one trick makes water climb up a towel into a glass that is sitting on a higher level.

I took this book home with me, assembled the tools, and tried out a few of the tricks. Amused, I decided that I should spread some joy over the holiday season. A few calls later, I booked my first gig at the local hospital, St. Elisabeth, children’s ward.

I practiced several of the tricks until I had them down and could easily recall the steps as well as the science. Unsatisfied, I decided that for a proper magic show, it had to be entertaining as well. I needed a costume. Finally, a trip to a thrift store later, I decked myself out in a full traveling salesman garb. I was ready.

I found joy spending the holidays performing my science magic act at the hospitals, and gradually increased my audience from children and their parents to all the hospital patients. My supporting team of ready volunteers were the hospital staff. Even the busy doctors took time to play with science magic.

It saddens me to say that I’ve not been able to do my normal routine at the hospitals for a couple years now. Life got in the way and I needed more help and volunteers to take on the show, and gradually it died out. I still have my costume and my book, though. Once I graduate and settle into a routine, I plan to take up the torch again to bring science magic to local hospitals where ever I happen to be during the holiday season.

If you are looking for a way to get involved with this and plan your own event, please, don’t hesitate to leave a comment indicating your interest to pick my brain for ideas. Just remember, bring your own costume.

Update: I have since graduated this past year, and this year I plan to stake out a new hospital to volunteer at in my new city. Here’s hoping that I can get set up before the holidays are past.

Originally written for and published on AAAS Member Central Dec. 2012