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Professor wows crowd with charity magic show

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POTSDAM — He has the patter down pat and a magician’s flair for the unexpected, but James G. Peploski is quick to tell his rapt young audience that magic isn’t real; chemistry is.

The Clarkson University professor entertained about 180 people at a charity magic show Sunday at Clarkson’s Science Center.

Mr. Peploski started the show years ago, using the same chemistry demonstrations he uses to get his freshman students interested in science.

“I thought about what I could do to make students want to come to class,” he said.

These demonstrations often have a penchant for the pyrotechnic, such as a fire-spewing Nerf gun and an oxygen-fueled blaze in a bottle.

At one point he requested the help of an assistant, Violet O. Reyes, 11, who held a small piece of explosive material in her bare hand. Mr. Peploski lit it up, creating a pillar of flame that vanished quickly, without injuring anyone.

“It was amazing,” Violet said.

Attendance to the show was free with the donation of an unwrapped toy for the Potsdam Community Fund. Mr. Peploski said he wanted to help the fund, and his show seemed the perfect way to do it.

The fund provides Christmas gifts to families in need. It is expected to help more than 500 families this year, said Nancy E. Griffin, member of the fund’s board of directors.

“We were so grateful that they did this. It’s a great gift, both to the kids in the community and the kids who we help through the holiday fund,” she said.

As he performs, Mr. Peploski explains the science behind his stunts. “Everything you touch, taste or smell is made of chemicals,” he tells his audience, explaining how the same chemicals he uses to create his flashy demonstrations are used in household products.

The children who watched the show Saturday were especially impressed, with plenty of excited shouts as chemicals changed colors with a shake or balloons filled with hydrogen instead of helium exploded into flame at the touch of a lighter.

“It’s the perfect audience,” Mr. Peploski said. “Young children who get excited, who are screaming and hollering.”

After the show he stayed to answer questions from the audience and hand out glow sticks.

For the finale, Mr. Peploski poured a mixture of cream, sugar and vanilla into a bowl. He added liquid nitrogen, at minus 200 degrees Celsius, to freeze the mixture instantly. A few seconds of stirring and the show ended with instant ice cream for all.

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