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Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere!

Bubbles are scientific?

That was the question I had when I first realized there was a Bubbles show at Science World at TELUS World of Science. Then, after watching the show and learning more about bubbles leading up to doing my own first Bubbles show performance, I learned that there is actually a lot of science and math involved. Even more, there’s a special chemistry and geometry when it comes to making bubbles.

What's bubble chemistry?

Well, bubbles are more than just a soap solution filled with air. Bubbles are actually made from a bubble film that looks like a sandwich with soap on the outsides and water on the inside. The soap works to reduce the surface tension of water so that the water can stretch. This means that bubble film is elastic and stretches out and snaps back to its original shape.

Why are bubbles round?

This is where the math comes in. Forming a bubble takes energy and bubbles want to form a shape that is the least stretched out. This shape must have the least amount of surface area for its size. The shape that results is a sphere. This is why bubbles are round when they are floating through the air around us!

What's bubble geometry?

While playing with bubbles, I had a chance to investigate the geometry of bubbles. I took a close look at how bubble film forms at specific angles. For example, three bubbles on a flat surface form a Y-shape and the angle between the connecting walls of each of the three bubbles is 120°. 

Bubble geometry is also involved if you want to make a cube-shaped bubble. That's right, bubbles are not always round! Well, it’s possible to make a cube-shaped bubble if you use a cube-shaped frame. When the 3 dimensional frame is placed into the bubble solution, the bubble film that forms in the frame meets at angles of about 109°. Then, when you use a straw to form a bubble where the film meets, it becomes a cube!

Playing with Bubbles!

Science and math are involved when it comes to making bubbles, but most importantly, bubbles are fun for everyone. Whether it’s using a straw to make a bubble caterpillar or trying to catch a bubble with a soapy hand. You can even use toys to make bubbles. For example, I learned that a hula hoop makes a nice, large bubble wand—one that’s even big enough to put an entire person in a bubble!

Want more info?

If you want to play with bubbles at home or at school, check out Science World’s bubble recipes so that you can make your own bubble solution. Hint: adding glycerine to your soap and water solution helps the bubbles hold water so that they take longer to burst. This means your bubbles will stick around for longer, giving you more time to play with them!

Teachers and parents, for additional info on the chemistry and math of bubbles visit our Resources pages for lots of free, bubble-themed, teacher-tested activities.