The Transparent Man: A new Quirkology video

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Magician Robert Harbin performing his Zig Zag illusion

The lovely folks at Google Making & Science recently asked me whether there was a science-based project that I would love to make happen.

A few weeks before, magic consultant David Britland had drawn my attention to a little-known optical illusion from the 1920s called ‘The Transparent Man’.

The illusion was described in a book written by magician Robert Harbin, and involved just a few sheets of glass and a light. According to Harbin, if everything was arranged in a certain way, a person would appear transparent. It’s an amazing idea, yet no-one had actually built the illusion to see if it worked.

When I looked at the plans, I realised that Harbin’s illusion used the same general idea that’s currently employed by physicists trying to make objects invisible! I contacted the world’s leading expert on invisibility – Professor Ulf Leonhardt – and asked if he would like to be involved in the project.

Ulf was amazingly generous and recorded an interview about this little-known optical illusion, his research into invisibility, and how Harbin’s illusion was years ahead of its time. In addition, magician Scott Penrose (President of The Magic Circle and a huge fan of Harbin) kindly agreed to be interviewed about Harbin’s most famous creation – the Zig Zag Lady.

The illusion took a long time to get right because it is a bit of an optical nightmare, but eventually the Quirkology Ninja and I managed to pull it off.

Here is the short documentary showing the illusion……

And here are the related interviews by Ulf and Scott….

Loads of people were kind enough to help with the project, and so my thanks go to…Professor Caroline Watt, David Britland, Professor Ulf Leonhardt, Joe Pavlo (I still have no idea how you did that), Mat White, Scott Penrose, Darren Martin, The Magic Circle, Jim Steinmeyer, Cameron Watt, Peter Lamont, Helen Keen, Simon Gage, and Sarah Angliss.

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5 comments on “The Transparent Man: A new Quirkology video

  1. generalmahone says:

    Very interesting! Thank you!

  2. bookmarklee says:

    What a great project Richard. Well done and thank you for sharing on this blog and for the video and interviews on YouTube.

  3. ManuManu says:

    Isn’t it the same effect that was used here :
    http://grandstoursdemagie.blogspot.fr/2009/03/la-chambre-bleue.html

    A not very known, very old illusion known as the “Blue Room” ?

  4. edison_maxwell says:

    How do make those transparent balls disappear in the water? I mean, where do you get balls of the correct transparency?

    • decourse says:

      edison_maxwell They’re called water beads. They have the same refractive index as water because they are mostly water. (In fact, they need to be hydrated before you use them.)

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