Phenomena

Bouncing Off a Film

Surface tension is the result of an imbalance between intermolecular forces near an interface. Imagine a water molecule far from the surface; it is surrounded on all sides by other water molecules and feels each of those pulling on it. Since all the nearby molecules are water, the tugs from every direction balance and there is no net force. Now imagine that water molecule near the air interface. Instead of being influenced on all sides by water, our molecule now feels water in some directions and air molecules in another. The water molecules tug harder on it than air, leaving a net force that pulls along the interface. This is surface tension, and, for a liquid-gas interface, it behaves somewhat like an elastic sheet. Surface tension is even strong enough to let a jet of soap solution bounce repeatedly off a soap film. Each bounce deforms the interface, like a trampoline dimpling when someone jumps on it, but surface tension keeps the interface taut enough for the jet to skip off without breaking it. (Image credit: C. Kalelkar and S. Phansalkar, source)

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