Science project

Mach Bands

  1. To demystify the cause of the appearance of an “aura.”     
  2. To encourage critical thinking.     

Research Questions 

  • What is a human aura?   
  • What causes some people to see human auras?     
  • Why do some people believe that auras provide important details about our lives?  

The human “aura” is a perceived band of light around the edge of a person's physical outline. The aura can generally be seen when you relax your eyes and look slightly away from the subject for about 30 seconds. The subject should also be standing in front of a solid-colored background.

Psychics frequently offer “aura readings,” claiming to “read” everything from the state of your health to the quality of your love life to the unknowable details of your future. In this project you will identify, illustrate and attempt to prove the mechanism of seeing “auras.” The hypothesis outlined below is not known to be published anywhere. The hypothesis was devised by the writer of this project idea. The hypothesis is “Quite probably!” correct, according to none other than James Randi himself. 


  • Computer with Internet access     
  • Color printer     
  • Digital camera     
  • Typical office/hobby/hardware/craft supplies (paper, poster board, glue, etc.).     

All necessary materials can be found in or around your home, at local stores, or on ebay.

Research Project 

  1. Read overview of relevant topics (see bibliography below and terms listed above)     
  2. Address all of the above terms and research questions, especially “Mach Bands.”     
  3. Search and print out interesting images relevant to your topic.      
  4. Understand why the probable cause of the perception of human auras is Mach Bands.     
  5. Interpret your findings in a detailed report.     
  6. Include relevant photos, diagrams and demonstrations in your science fair display.  

Terms/Concepts: Human Aura; James Randi; Mach bands; Optical Illusion


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Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state's handbook of Science Safety.

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