Discover the magic in science

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By Special to the Monitor

The Harry Potter books are a gateway not only to magical worlds, but to aspects of the true history of early science and medicine. From botany (herbology) to chemistry (alchemy) to runes and codes (divination), J.K. Rowling based many details in her work on Renaissance scientific and philosophical endeavors. This summer, come explore “Harry Potter’s World”  through a traveling exhibit at Mesa Public Library Art Gallery from the National Libraries of Medicine and the American Library Association. Elizabeth Bland is the curator.


Los Alamos County Library System submitted an application with support from several community organizations in a competitive process to host the exhibition, which will travel to less than 100 venues across the country in the next two years. The only library in New Mexico selected, Mesa Public Library is coordinating events which will include a gala opening from 1-4 p.m. July 17 in the upstairs art gallery at Mesa Public Library. The opening will feature music by Musica Antigua de Albuquerque, refreshments and hands-on activities. Visitors are encouraged to wear Renaissance or Harry Potter costumes.

In a related, more contemporary and  regional connection, the art gallery will also feature photographs by Greg Johnston of curanderos, Mexican folk healers, at work. Dr. Eliseo Torres, who has written and done extensive research on curanderismo, will give a talk later in July. The photographs were taken in conjunction with his research. The library exhibit will run from July 14 to Aug. 9.

For more information, visit www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/harrypottersworld.

The exhibit at the library is just one program that is celebrating  Harry Potter’s world. Other events include “Bewitched, Bewildered and Believable: The Real Science of Harry Potter” at 4 p.m. July 16 at the Bradbury Science Museum. Dean Petersen of the LANL Superconductivity Technology Center will reveal the science behind much of the magic featured in Harry Potter books.

Invisibility cloaks, mind reading, levitation, ultrastrong fibers and medical healing all figure in Harry Potter books. But is science far behind?

“Things we thought were magic 10 years ago are becoming scientific reality,” Peterson said. “Many effects described in the Harry Potter books and movies have now been shown to be possible.”  

Peterson will explain Harry Potter’s magic by discussing research related to superconductors and showing how they enable levitation.

“Superconductors are examples of novel materials with properties that appear magical, but are based in science,” he said.   “Their ability to levitate objects such as broomsticks, cars or trains has been demonstrated.”

Additionally, UNM-Los Alamos Library has created a complementary exhibit, “Harry Potter’s World: An Academic View of Science, Medicine and Magic during the Renaissance” which is currently on display through Aug. 27.

In keeping with a university setting, the exhibit concentrates on “a more academic point of view,” UNM-LA Library Director Dennis Davies-Wilson said. Davies-Wilson and UNM-LA Library staff member Emily Veenstra-Ott are the exhibit’s curators.  “We chose to focus on scientific inventions, medical developments and practices, and philosophies and beliefs surrounding occult subjects such as magic and witchcraft, during the Renaissance,” Davies-Wilson said.

UNM-LA isn’t leaving kids out of the Harry Potter adventures this summer. Classes such as Crystals, which will be held July 23 and Potions 101, which will be offered July 30 will provide the aspiring wizards and scientists with hands-on learning as well as fun. Visit the UNM-LA Web site or call Community Education at 662-0336 for more information.

As part of the library’s regular Authors Speak Series, Torres, vice president of Student Affairs at UNM’s main campus in Albuquerque, will speak about his books on Curanderismo or folk healing in Mexico and the Southwest. He has conducted research and worked personally with several curanderos and will relate his experiences and insights into using native plants, psychology of healing and spiritual aspects of folk medicine.

Lizzie Eastwood, a  library staff member with consumer medical information expertise, will present how to find reliable online and print materials in the library’s collections about alternative and complementary medicine at 7 p.m. July 28 in the library’s meeting rooms.