The Measure of Magic In Scientific Research

University students’ research confirms that Harry Potter spells may be best left to the world of magic.

I don’t know about my fellow Potterheads, but when it comes to spellwork in the Harry Potter series, I was always content with the “Well, it’s magic” explanation. Like any skill, the magic we experience alongside Harry requires a thorough knowledge and regular practice to hone and control it, but I never looked for the particular mechanics of any wandwork.

Perhaps that speaks to a lack of curiosity on my part, but that certainly didn’t stop students from two different universities to put a little of Harry’s magic under the telescope. Students from the University of Leicester (UK) and McMaster University (Canada) delved into the science behind the gillyweed herb and Skele-Gro potion to see if their effects were workable sans magic.

If any spell were to be studied as such, it makes sense that these students chose two that are, at their heart, biological—but all the same (and not all that surprisingly), they concluded that neither of these fictitious creations are possible in the real world.

The research itself, however, was properly done, and published in Leicester’s Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics. The gist of the analyses is as follows:

  • To test the feasibility of Skele-Gro’s effects as we see them in Chamber of Secrets, the students assumed based on the text that Harry was able to regrow his lost bones within twenty-four hours. Ultimately, the students concluded that Skele-Gro’s restorative properties and accelerated energy levels proved to be about 90 times quicker than is actually possible.
  • Using the visual aid provided by the Goblet of Fire film, the students estimated the gills’ measurements along with Harry’s height and weight, and calculated the oxygen content of the lake along with the maximum oxygen use needed when swimming. All things considered, the result was that the water flow outpaced the airflow and—should science outweigh the power of magic—Harry would have in fact suffocated.

It’s a shame that we won’t be testing such magical transformations for ourselves but, then again, they probably wouldn’t turn out any better than Hermione’s stint as half-cat following her bungled Polyjuice Potion. That’s one cautionary tale we probably don’t want to play out beyond the pages of a book.