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Listen up Potterheads! Muggle student scientists from U.K.’s University of Leicester have been researching some critical matters: do the spells and potions that Harry Potter and his fellow wizards use really need magic to work or do they have a scientific basis? The research papers, “Gillyweed – Drowning with Gills?” and “Revealing the Magic of Skele-Gro,” published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics in May, investigated the magical plant and potion that helped the wizard in the popular book series.
Gillyweed, as you may recall, is the Mediterranean plant that played a key role in helping Harry win the Triwizard tournament in the The Goblet of Fire. Consuming the plant enabled the wizard to grow gills and breathe underwater. Given the magical universe of Harry Potter, it is futile to argue about the instant appearance of the gills and webbed feet and hands. Instead, the researchers decided to focus on whether the gills would have worked the way they were portrayed.
Based on the gill’s appearance in the movie, Rowan Reynolds and Chris Ringrose, who conducted the research, estimated them to be about 60cm² in surface area. The budding scientists then took into account the oxygen content of the Black Lake where the tournament was held and the amount of the gas Harry would have needed to breathe underwater. Their calculations revealed that for the gills to work, the young wizard would have needed to breathe twice as fast as an average human for the entire hour — something that is not feasible, at least for a muggle.
There is also the fact that for the gills to function, Harry would have had to open his mouth to let the water in and out. But the young wizard kept his mouth shut through most of the competition.
This led Reynolds and Ringrose to conclude, “if Harry were to open his mouth to allow water into his throat and out through the gills, it may be plausible that he could breathe underwater. However, without doing this, it is simply not plausible that he could extract sufficient oxygen for survival.”
Hence, science alone could not have been able to save ‘The Boy Who Lived’ — he definitely needed magic!
The second study, “Revealing the Magic of Skele-Gro” investigates the potion that restored the wizard’s arm bones. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the protagonist broke his arm while trying to catch the golden snitch in a crucial Quidditch game against the Slytherin team. To make matters worse, Gilderoy Lockhart’s attempt to heal the arm caused the bones to vanish altogether. Luckily, Madame Pomfrey had a solution — A foul tasting magical potion called Skele-Gro.
This time, researchers Leah Ashley, Chris Ringrose, and Robbie Roe focused on the energy requirement necessary to regrow the bones in a body. In the book, it took Harry 24-hours to restore his hand. While this was excruciatingly slow for the wizarding world, it is 90 times faster than real-world bone generation. According to the scientists, regrowing bones at this rapid rate would reqiure an extraordinary amount of energy (133,050 kcal) within the span of 24-hours.
They, therefore, concluded that “Skele-Gro potion must definitely contain some unexpected magical properties for it to be able to supply such a huge amount of energy within such a short period of time.”
Hence, even if you are lucky enough to get your hands on some Gillyweed or skele-gro potion, you will require some magic to get them to work!
Resources: Sciencedaily.com, guardian.com, dailymail,co.uk