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Moment of Science: Bubbles

A simple joy with a simple structure
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 5:28 PM EDT
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“Pop” quiz: They show up in drinks, volcano projects and maybe some of your childhood parties. This week, we’re taking a look at the science behind bubbles!

Highlights:

* Soap molecules have two ends: one that prefers water (hydrophilic), and one that does its best to avoid it (hydrophobic). You get enough of them together, and they’ll create a “sandwich” of sorts to trap water in between those layers that form.

* Bubbles will deform and look a little weird sometimes, but they’ll always try to form a sphere since that shape gives the lowest surface area possible. Even when they meet, they’ll form a flat wall at a 120-degree angle -- again, to maximize that surface area. That angle means a bunch of them will eventually form hexagons.

* Those swirly rainbow colors are determined by the light interfering with itself as it passes through, and by how thick or thin the bubble is at a given point. It all has to do with surface tension battling gravity in what’s called the “Marangoni effect”. Liquid tends to flow from low to high surface tension, and that movement stretches out the bubble layer. Eventually, evaporation wins out... and it’s bye bye, bubbles.

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