Sorry to Burst Your Bubble

Our segment here involves one of the more popular “parlor tricks” of Victorian Science. A chapter of a famous book “La Science Amusante” by Tom Tit (Librairie Larousse, Paris 1883) is devoted to these elegant bubble experiments. Tit’s book of French Science experiment was reprinted at least 42 times.

In the segment, Dan introduces simple geometric forms into a solution of soap and water. The forms features in the segment include three regular polyhedra (a term we use to describe solids having faces (or surfaces) that take the shape of regular polygons. Further, each of the faces, edges and corners of these regular polyhedrons (also called “Platonic Solids”) are, interestingly, idendtical.

Our segment is one that could be examined in a simple or in a complex way. In producing it, we were surprised by how easily we were able to form the bubbles in the soap solution, and by how durable the bubble forms were. You may see Dan adjusting the bubbles in the footage, and removing extra “distortion” bubbles with the tip of a paper towel.

The interesting idea involved in the formation of these interior surfaces is that they all occupy the least possible surface area. The phenomena was first studied formally by a French physicist named Joseph Plateau, and later analyzed mathematically by several theoretical mathematicians, most notably and conclusively by Jesse Douglas and Tibor Rado. The mathematical basis for the formation of the surfaces depicted in our segment was a complex and elusive problem called “The Plateau Problem” by a series of mathematicians who worked to solve it. One key involved the energy associated with each surface formation (for example, blowing on the bubble surfaces formed in the interior spaces in the geometric frames “displaces” and deforms the bubble, yet it returns to its most stable form, or that which is associated with the lowest energy level.

We offer this segment as part of our plan to examine the overlap between science and other disciplines (here principally Math). In our concept notes, we’d also like you to encourage Videoscience participants to examine a microscopic organism called Radiolaria.