Q: Is there some way to actually play quidditch?

Physicist: Using magic?  No.  But people do try.

There are no physical theories that allow for the existence of magic, as described in Harry Potter™ and or other creative ventures of that ilk.  However, if you had an amazing amount of money and energy, you might be able to set up some kind of magnetic system that allowed people, while within the arena, to be propelled around on things the size of broomsticks.

Quidditch: Nope.

Bill Gates could probably get something set up, but he’s too busy curing malaria or something.

I wish I could say something about how awesome superconductors are, or that they might be useful, but all they’d really be useful for is moving the players around as though they were on tracks.  If you really want to control how everything moves around you’d have to use “servo-mechanistic electromagnetic suspension” (that’s a made up phrase, but it is a decent description).  This is how maglev trains today work.

Normally, a pair of magnets will either snap together or fly apart.  To suspend one magnet above another (without snapping or flying), or move one magnet around in a controlled way, requires the use of one or several tightly controlled electromagnets, that vary their strength very quickly to react to the position of the magnet they’re suspending.  This is a “servomechanism“.

It would take stunning buckets of power to create a magnet field the size of an arena, that’s capable of suspending a person (and broom).  But the real difficulty is in coming up with a way of targeting 15 separate objects: two teams of 7 players, and the “snitch”.  In theory, you could put together some kind of extremely sophisticated array of small coils in the ground and in the stands that could target a magnetic field to relatively small areas in space (person sized).  This sort of technique is used for things like “hypersonic sound“, which is a “beam of sound”.

However, there’s a drawback.  In order to get a wave phenomena (sound waves, ocean waves, magnetic, whatever) to stay stay confined (like a beam) and not just go wherever, you need the wavelength to be fairly short.  A good rule of thumb is that the wavelengths need to be about the size of the region in question or shorter.  This is just another incarnation of the uncertainty principle (which is all about waves).  At about the same time that you’re using wavelengths short enough to (theoretically) target individual people and brooms, and not all the objects in the arena, you’ll find that your previously gentle magnetic field is now made up of microwaves (microwaves, and light in general, are just high frequency electromagnetic fields).

So, after years of effort and (let’s say) billions of dollars in R&D, you’ll find that what you’ve really made is the most whimsical death machine ever constructed.  Real-world Quidditch would a very short, but spectacular game.

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11 Responses to Q: Is there some way to actually play quidditch?

  1. Will says:

    Surround the players in faraday cages, microwave problem averted!

  2. The Physicist The Physicist says:

    One of the by-laws states that players need to be in microwave safe packaging before being allowed on the field.

  3. Ron says:

    Since the only thing that matters is catching the snitch, and the rest of the game seems to be for amusement only, we could simulate the game quite nicely with a scavenger hunt and a bunch of people playing patty-cake for the spectators to watch.

    Harry Potter fans, you KNOW it’s true!!! What is the point of the other players when nothing they can do will win the game??? lol

    As for the flying on broomsticks bit…I’m pretty sure the physics aren’t there to make it work.

  4. Someone says:

    Why not just in space in a big inflatable arena with brooms that contain high-compressed air for movement?

  5. ashkan kian says:

    Werygood. Sent news physical &energy ask&answer all to my email

  6. rosie banana says:

    Sorry, Ron, but you’re wrong. If the chasers make enough goals with the quaffle, even if the other team catches the snitch it doesn’t matter. The team with the most points wins. True, it’s rare. See: The Sorcerers Stone and The Goblet of Fire.

  7. Eric says:

    You can get almost everything if you play in an orbital microgravity arena. Brooms and balls would contain small engines or compressed air. They could be rigged with sensors so they accelerated as if gravity were tugging at them. Depending on propulsion technology, players might have to wear protective gloves and hearing protection.

    Unfortunately for the dramatic possibilities, you couldn’t fall to the ground if you lost your hold on your broom, but you could still break limbs by crashing into the ground.

  8. Freya says:

    Actually, there would be 17 moving objects with the addition of the two bludgers. But getting them to move of their own accord is a whole new issue.

  9. Abby says:

    Is it possible to make them weightless

  10. Anonymous says:

    Well you could always run about on a broom stick chasing footballs and dodging rugby balls…..

  11. Willis says:

    Two words….Wind tunnel….

    Problem solved.

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