Is it possible to make a human levitate?
Like frogs, humans are about two thirds water, so if you had a big enough Bitter electromagnet, there’s no reason why a human couldn’t be levitated diamagnetically. None of the frogs that have taken part in the diamagnetic levitation experiments have experienced any adverse effects, which bodes well for any future human guinea pigs.
But many a magician has made their lovely assistant levitate without the need for huge magnetic fields, so how do they do it?
Most levitation tricks use optical illusions and misdirection to focus your attention away from what is really happening. One classic trick, called Balducci levitation, is often performed by street entertainers. By standing at a certain angle so that the audience can see only one foot and the back heel of the other, the entertainer can then stand on the tip toes of the hidden foot, lift the visible foot completely off the ground and pretend to be levitating.
Smoke and mirrors
Levitating a reclining assistant is another oft-repeated trick that also relies on optical illusion and misdirection, as well as more than a bit of physics. The lovely assistant comes on stage with a flourish and lies down on a couch. The magician then covers them in a cloth from head to toe before ‘levitating’ them up and across the stage. As the audience are still reeling from the wonder of seeing the lovely assistant floating in mid air, there’s a flash of light and a crack and the magician whisks the cloth away to reveal nothing – the assistant has gone!
This is Asrah levitation and the ‘magic’ is that an assistant shaped shield is placed over the assistant along with the cloth. The couch is hollow and once the cloth and shield are in place, the assistant conceals themselves inside the couch which is then taken off stage. The shield and cloth are levitated using wires, threads and pulleys which are almost impossible to see against the carefully chosen dark stage background. Finally, as the cloth is whipped away, the shield, which is made up of very thin black material, collapses and goes unseen as the magician waves his arms and points to the assistant who has magically reappeared at the back of the auditorium.
Magicians don’t often give away their secrets, but when they do, the ‘magic’ that they reveal is often just physics – magnets, lights, smoke, pulleys – which is used to confound your senses.
Find related websites about the physics of magic tricks with physics.org.