Stabilizing Foams

Foams are commonly -- and sometimes undesirably -- formed in manufacturing.

Bubbles in a pure liquid don’t last long, but with added surfactants or multiple miscible liquids, bubbles can form long-lasting foams. In soapy foams, surfactants provide the surface tension gradients necessary to keep the thin liquid layers between bubbles from popping. But what stabilizes a surfactant-free foam?

New work finds that foams in mixtures of two miscible fluids only form when the surface tension depends nonlinearly on the concentration of the component liquids. When this is true, thinning the wall between bubbles creates changes in surface tension that stabilize the barrier and keep it from popping.

In mixtures without this nonlinearity, foams just won’t form. The new results are valuable for manufacturing, where companies can avoid unintentional foams simply by careful selection of their fluids. (Image credit: G. Trovato; research credit: H. Tran et al.; via APS Physics; see also Ars Technica, submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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