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Copywrite 2001-2004, California Science Center
Media Contact:

Shell Amega
Paula Wagner
Natalie Lesly

July 25, 2005

Get Into the Act!
Magic: The Science of Illusion
at the California Science Center
Opening October 6, 2005

Los Angeles, CA – Mind reading, floating in thin air, a head without a body — is it magic or science — or perhaps a little of both? Visitors can find out and get into the act at Magic: The Science of Illusion, when the California Science Center brings one of its most popular exhibits back home for an encore display, on the exhibit’s fifth anniversary. Magic will run from October 6, 2005 through January 1 2006 offering guests an opportunity to discover the art and science of entertainment magic through artifacts, films, interactive experiences and performances.

" I saw this exhibit as a wonderful opportunity to build a bridge from the public’s enthusiasm about entertainment magic to an interest in science,” says Diane Perlov, senior vice president for exhibits and the exhibit’s curator, who recruited magic luminaries such as Penn & Teller, Jade, Max Maven, Goldfinger & Dove and others to help create the exhibit. “Most people don’t connect science with magic, yet all magic is based on science principles. Performers can’t do the impossible. But they can appear to. This exhibit is about appreciating the wonder of magic, while exploring basic science concepts that make illusions possible.”

Magic: The Science of Illusion explores basic science concepts used in a set of custom-made illusions and shows how these science concepts relate to our everyday lives. In the exhibit, visitors can learn how magicians use psychology, physics, math, engineering and the art of performance to create complex, and visually stunning, effects. While science seeks to explain the wonders of the world, magicians use some of the same forces and principles to mystify us and to apparently do the impossible. “Magicians use science to create illusions. Only, in magic shows, the science is usually hidden from the audience," Perlov says.

In some cases, magicians act as inventors and explorers of the latest sciences to come up with ingenious illusions. And, just like inventors, magicians assisted the Science Center in developing unique, custom-made illusions for use in this exhibit. These illusions have become the central attraction in the exhibit and include the Amazing Living Head Illusion, the Light and Heavy Chest Illusion, the Rising Chair Illusion and the Magic of Mind Illusion.

In the exhibit, visitors can explore the science of illusions without losing the enchantment that a magic show creates. Visitors can explore the science and art of visual illusions from two perspectives: that of the audience and that of the magician's apprentice. The exhibit features historic illusions as well as those that have been custom-made for the Science Center so they will not expose staging being used in modern magic performances. As the audience, visitors enter a "front stage" environment to experience the emotional impact of magical performances and to learn the history of each illusion. Each section features a video of a professional magician performing the illusion and a put-yourself-in-the-illusion opportunity for visitors.

As the magician's apprentice, visitors gain access to a "backstage" environment where they will learn important artistic and scientific principles used to create the illusion the audience sees. In some cases, they will have a chance to make the illusion happen. Through hands-on exhibits, visitors explore key concepts of physical science, math and psychology and learn how these same principles operate in daily life.

But all will not be revealed. Before they leave the backstage area, visitors will have a chance to be baffled again. To keep the sense of wonder around magic alive, the exhibit includes video clips of magicians performing similar incredible, and unexplained, illusions—effects that can't possibly be done the way visitors have just witnessed.

Science is key to understanding what's going on in a magic show, but so is the art of performance. In Magic, visitors can explore the magical arts for themselves when they visit the Magician's Training Academy to learn new card tricks and mind-reading illusions that they can perform at home.

In other areas of Magic, visitors can:

  • Learn about the history of magic and its most famous performers — from Houdini to Henning — in the Magicians and Performances exhibit. Visitors will see the handcuffs that Houdini once escaped from, plus view other historical artifacts from magic's past.
  • View Magic at Work an original documentary film about magical thinking in modern life. See how magical thinking coexists with scientific rationality, and find surprising similarities among American professional baseball players and Norwegian commercial fishermen.
  • Visitors are invited to reflect on magical thinking in their own lives.
  • Participate in mini-magic shows that amaze and educate by exploring the use of chemistry, physics and math for magical effect.

Magic was developed by the California Science Center in cooperation with the Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative. It is also supported in part by the National Science Foundation. Advisors for Magic include magicians Penn & Teller, Goldfinger & Dove, Jade, Max Maven and the late Doug Henning, along with magic industry specialists Jim Steinmeyer and Milt Larsen. The exhibit, which has been touring the United States since it first debuted at the California Science Center in 2001 will continue on to Michigan, Tennessee and New York.


The California Science Center and IMAX Theater are located in historic Exposition Park just west of the Harbor (110) Freeway at 700 State Drive, Los Angeles. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission to the exhibits is free. For recorded information, including IMAX show times, phone 323.SCIENCE (323.724-3623). For advance ticket purchases, group rates, or to make free resevation for any visiting group of 15 or more (required), call 213.744-2019. Parking is available in the visitor lot at Figueroa and Coliseum/39th Street at $6 per car, $10 for buses or oversized vehicles. Both the Science Center and IMAX Theater are wheelchair accessible. For further information, please visit our website at www.californiasciencecenter.org.
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