Do you think of bubbles as objects of childish fascination? Beautiful, ephemeral, but ultimately peripheral to the main branches of science, life, and business? Well if you did think that, then that would be a BIG mistake. Because bubbles of one kind or another are absolutely central to your life.
Last weekend I got to help at the NPL stand at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. It was a busy day and by the end of it my voice was hoarse. My reward was that I reminded myself – with a little help from my colleague Gianluca Memoli – just how ubiquitous and important bubbles are.
- I remembered that all biological life consist of cells, which are nothing more than bubbles formed spontaneously when fats (lipids) are mixed with water. The miracle of life itself exists only inside a protective bubble!
- I remembered returning a kettle to John Lewis because it was too noisy – noise created by the bubbles in the water.
- I remembered that the golden sound of the sea upon the shore – Shhhhhh…….. Shhhhhhh…… is nothing more than the sound of bubbles collapsing.
- I remembered that when we wait for bread to bake and reach its optimal state of scrumptious edibility – we are simply waiting for the bubbles inside it to reach the right size.
- I remembered that I love champagne, a wine in which the value is increased ten-fold because of the presence of bubbles.
- I remembered that I owe the value of my house the existence of a property bubble – wait a minute! That’s not Physics!
On the NPL stand Gianluca was explaining how sound – more generally ultrasound – could be used to create, move and manipulate bubbles. And if his research pans out as planned, he will be able to use the oscillations of micro-bubbles to measure the properties of fluids.
As I wandered back to Waterloo Station across the Hungerford Bridge I gazed across the bustling river at the hubbub of the South Bank. Reflecting on those things which rivers make one reflect upon, I realised that I was lost in nothing less than a …thought bubble. Bubbles really are everywhere: watch out for them!