Home > Physics > The Physics of Bubbles

The Physics of Bubbles

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 30 Sep 2012 |
 
Bubbles Shape Soap Detergent Bubble

Whether they are in a bubble bath or drifting on the wind, bubbles are beautiful and fun things. Try making your own to examine the amazing properties of the simple bubble.

Making Bubbles

To make bubbles, you need a bubble solution and a wand. A basic bubble solution is water with soap or detergent such as washing-up liquid or bubble bath in it (try one part washing up liquid or bubble bath to ten or fifteen parts water). To make bubbles for babies, try using baby shampoo, as these will not sting their eyes. Try out different mixtures – does washing-up liquid, bubble bath or baby shampoo make the best bubbles? What strength is best? Does the price or brand matter? What happens if glycerine is added to the mixture?

To make small bubble wands, use pipe cleaners and make a small loop with a handle. Dip the loop into the bubble solution to form a ‘skin’ of bubble solution across the frame, and blow – what difference does blowing gently or blowing hard make? Try other things with holes in, such as slotted spoons. For huge bubbles, make the bubble wand from a wire coat hanger – wrapping it with fabric will allow more bubble solution to soak in – and wave it through the air.

Put some bubble solution into a shallow bowl, put a straw into the solution with one end just under the surface, and blow gently into it to make bubbles. What shapes do the bubbles make? What happens when bubbles meet? Do they stay round? To make bubble prints, add powder paint or other water-based paint to the bubble solution and carefully touch a piece of plain white paper to the surface of the bubbles. Try not to get the paint mixture on skin or clothes.

How Do Bubbles Work?

The bubble ‘skin’ is made up of three layers – two layers of soap, sandwiching a layer of water. Detergent molecules have a head that likes water (hydrophilic) and a tail that hates water (hydrophobic). The heads of the detergent molecules bury themselves in the water layer. As the water evaporates, the bubble skin gets thinner and the bubble bursts.

Adding glycerine makes the detergent layers thicker, so making the bubble stronger, and stops the water in between from evaporating, so that the bubble lasts longer.

Bubbles on their own are round because they are always pulled into a sphere by surface tension, as this shape is the easiest to be because it has the smallest surface area. When two bubbles meet, they end up sharing a wall, because this also makes the surface area as small as possible. If the bubbles are a similar size, the shared wall is flat. If one bubble is smaller than the other is, the smaller one will make a bulge in the larger one. If there are lots of bubbles together, they form hexagonal shapes like cells in a honeycomb, because this is the most efficient way of filling a space.

What Use Are Bubbles?

Foams are made of tiny bubbles – they make mousses and soufflés light, and help shaving foams spread over the skin. Foams made out of metal or plastic are strong but light, so are useful in aeroplanes and cars.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
This is the best information for my science fare project!!
vat is up - 22-Dec-11 @ 4:16 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Rea
    Re: Making an Emulsion
    I have always wondered about the Earth. My teacher gave us this website to read about why water and oil don't mix. I started looking around on…
    16 May 2019
  • Candytashy
    Re: Looking at Soil Profiles
    Thanks so much for this post .it really helped me .made my homework much easier and l have learnt a lot from this post
    25 March 2019
  • Rajput
    Re: Pulling and Pushing: Magnetic Attraction
    Kya kisi chemical ko copper me mix karne se iron or steel ko push kiya ja sakte hai. Yadi ho to formula batye.
    25 March 2019
  • AT LIFE
    Re: Soap and Detergent Chemistry
    Thanks you so much because you help different students especially science who went be a perfect a part of chemistry
    22 March 2019
  • AT LIFE
    Re: Soap and Detergent Chemistry
    Thanks you so much because you help d/f students especially science who went be a perfect a part of chemistry like me.
    22 March 2019
  • Ban
    Re: Pulling and Pushing: Magnetic Attraction
    Sir, I found that in magnet the needle attract one side and repulsive other side pls give me the answer
    6 March 2019
  • falcon
    Re: Growing Plants in Different Soils
    this has been very helpful for my science experiment thank you
    19 February 2019
  • Suzwriter
    Re: A Bending Bone
    The bones soaked in water won't change - it's the acid that affects the bones. And eating acid foods doesn't change the pH of the body so won't…
    12 February 2019
  • soloh
    Re: Melting Points for Different Solids
    Could you please practically research whether candle wax can melt at room temperature under reduced pressure?
    6 February 2019
  • asli
    Re: A Bending Bone
    vinegar has acid so if we eat something that contains acid which is bad for bones so what will happen if we eat something that contains Acid!?
    14 January 2019