Research

Collapsing Inside a Soap Film

An elastic ring embedded in a soap film buckles when the outer soap film is popped.

There’s a common demonstration of surface tension where a loop of string is placed in a soap film and then the film inside the loop is popped, making it suddenly form a perfect circle when the outer soap film’s surface tension pulls the string equally from every direction. In this video, researchers study a similar situation but with a few wrinkles.

Here the loop of string is replaced with an elastic ring, which has more internal stiffness and starts out entirely round within the soap film. Then the researchers pop the outer film. That burst instantly creates a stronger surface tension inside the ring, which causes it collapse inward. As the researchers note, this is the equivalent situation to applying an external pressure on the outside of the ring. The form of the buckling ring and film depends on just how large this “pressurization” is.

When the elastic ring is thickened to a band, popping the outer soap film makes the band wrinkle out of the plane.

Thickening the elastic from a ring to a band alters the collapse, too. The thicker the elastic band, the harder it is to buckle in the plane of the soap film. So instead it wrinkles as the film collapses, which creates wrinkles in the soap film, too! (Image, video, and research credit: F. Box et al.; see also F. Box et al. on arXiv)

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