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Summer Science Series: The Science of Making a Better Bubble

When we think of summer, we think of blowing bubbles! They’re so easy to make and fun to play with, who would guess that there’s a really important science concept at work? Check out this summertime experiment that explores the concept of surface tension. And at the same time, you will learn some tricks to make your bubbles last longer!

Tiny water molecules are sticky – they are attracted to each other. Water molecules on the surface (or top) of a bowl of water are so attracted to each other and to the water molecules below, they tug on each other. This tugging creates a strong and flexible film on the water’s surface called SURFACE TENSION. Soaps and detergents break up the strong interactions between water molecules. This lowers the surface tension of the water and makes it easier for bubbles to form.

Let’s see this science in action! You will test whether adding glycerin or corn syrup to a solution of dishwashing soap makes bubbles last longer. Do you have any guesses? Which substance do you think will make the strongest, longest-lasting bubble?

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • 3 shallow, wide bowls
  • 3 pieces of paper
  • pencil
  • measuring cup and measuring spoons
  • water
  • dish soap
  • spoon
  • glycerin (available at pharmacies)
  • corn syrup
  • pipe cleaners
  • timer

LET’S GET STARTED!

  1. Place the 3 bowls on the 3 pieces of paper on a clean flat surface, like your kitchen counter or kitchen table. With a pencil, label the papers:
    1. Dish Soap
    2. Dish Soap + Glycerin
    3. Dish Soap + Corn Syrup
  2. Add 1/2 cup of tap water to each bowl.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons of dish soap to each bowl. Mix gently with spoon.
  4. To “glycerin” bowl, add 1 tablespoon of glycerin. Gently mix.
  5. To “corn syrup” bowl, add 1 tablespoon of corn syrup. Gently mix.
  6. Make a loop in each of the 3 pipe cleaners to make bubble wands. Try to make all 3 loops the same size.
  7. Start making bubbles by dipping the loops into the liquid and gently blowing.
  8. Start the timer once the bubble is formed. (If you have a Foundation Chemistry Kit, use the purple timer!)
  9. Record how long each bubble lasts for each liquid.
  10. Repeat the experiment several times with each bubble solution. (It may take some practice to make really good bubbles consistently!)
  11. NOTE: To control the strength of the air passing through the bubble, you can also try holding the loop in front of a fan, set on its lowest speed.

What did you see? How long did your bubbles last? Did glycerin or corn syrup help them to last longer?

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

On its own, water is not very good at making bubbles because the surface tension is too strong. When soap is added to water, the soap molecules push their way between the water molecules and lower the surface tension. When air is blown into the mixture, a round bubble forms. A bubble is just a “skin” made of soap and water surrounding a pocket of air.

Substances like glycerin and corn syrup help the bubbles to last longer by making them more stable. They also help prevent the water in the bubble from evaporating. Evaporation causes bubbles to burst.

CONTACT US AT THE LAB

Let us know what you find. Share your photos and results with us on Facebook, Twitter, or send us an email to info@yellow-scope.com. We love getting your messages!

For more exciting chemistry experiments, check out our Foundation Chemistry Kit at www.yellow-scope.com.

Happy experimenting!

Camille Carlisle, Yellow Scope Summer Student

       & The Yellow Scope Team




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