Research

Deforming Soap Films

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It’s the time of year when new Gallery of Fluid Motion videos start popping up online. We’ve already featured several and no doubt there will be more to come. Today’s post is a submission from Saad Bhamla, who gave this introduction to the work:

Soap bubbles occupy the rare position of delighting and fascinating both young children and scientific minds alike. Sir Isaac Newton, Joseph Plateau, Carlo Marangoni and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, not to mention countless others, have discovered remarkable results in optics, molecular forces and fluid dynamics from investigating this seemingly simple system.

This video is a compilation of curiosity-driven experiments that systematically investigate the surface flows on a rising soap bubble. From childhood experience, we are familiar with the vibrant colors and mesmerizing display of chaotic flows on the surface of a soap bubble. These flows arise due to surface tension gradients, also known as Marangoni flows or instabilities. In this video, we show the surprising effect of layering multiple instabilities on top of each other, highlighting that unexpected new phenomena are still waiting to be discovered, even in the simple soap bubble.

As illustrated in the video, raising a bubble beneath the soap film moves surfactants in the film, which causes local differences in surface tension. Any time a difference in surface tension exists, fluid will flow from areas of low surface tension to ones with higher surface tension. This is called the Marangoni effect. On a soap bubble, this is visible in the chaotic swirling colors we see. In this system, Bhamla and his co-author found that by raising the bubble in steps, they could “freeze” the Marangoni-induced patterns created by the previous motion. (Video credit and submission: S. Bhamla et al.)

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