Bursting Your Bubble: Science Behind Popping Bubbles

The simple childhood pastime of blowing bubbles might be a lot more complex than previously thought. A group of Harvard graduate students recently took a closer look at bursting bubbles and realized that there is a whole new side to the end of a bubble’s life than meets the eye at first. Rather than simply disappearing when they pop, bubbles actually collapse in on themselves, forming doughnut-shaped rings of trapped air. The film forming the surface of the bubble can’t maintain that unstable doughnut shape, so the ring then forms a circle of smaller daughter bubbles. The daughter bubbles might then further collapse into a smaller group of granddaughter bubbles.

Though the observation might sound rather complicated, the science behind it is very simple. In fact, the same observation has probably been made by countless children while blowing bubbles, or anyone who has ever washed a sink full of dishes with plenty of soap bubbles. But understanding bubbles is, believe it or not, very important for a number of pursuits. Most notably, bubbles in sea foam can affect the global climate, making the study of bubbles a significant part of understanding our world as a whole.

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See more in Weird Science or under Science. June, 2010.