Surface Tension in Soap Bubbles

March 08, 2012


Photographer: Tommy Hornbeck
Summary Author: Tommy Hornbeck
What at first appears to be a wild wire framework (right down to the soldered connections) created by an avant-garde artist is actually an illustration of surface tension in a soap bubble. More accurately, it shows the surface tension in thousands of soap bubbles. Surface tension causes a bubble to assume the smallest surface area to contain a given volume -- resulting in the spherical shape.

When two identical bubbles touch, they merge into a new but still optimal shape, using the least surface area possible but with a flat common wall between. If you add a third bubble, the rearrangement continues according to Plateau's Laws, which describe the structure of soap films. When thousands of bubbles commingle, in this case from dish soap, there seems to be a chaos of angles, planes, curves and reflections. However, the shapes continue to sort themselves out in an orderly manner -- or nearly so. Photo taken near Nevada, Missouri on February 9, 2012.

Photo details: Camera Maker: NIKON; Camera Model: E8700; Focal Length: 37.7mm (35mm equivalent: 150mm); Aperture: f/3.9; Exposure Time: 0.093 s (1/11); ISO equiv: 50; Exposure Bias: none; Metering Mode: Matrix; Exposure: program (Auto); White Balance: Auto; Light Source: Unknown; Flash Fired: No (enforced); Orientation: Normal; Color Space: sRGB; Software: Adobe Photoshop Elements 9.0 Windows. Pushed contrast.