Program 26: The Science of Bubbles

Photo Sep 26, 4 50 36 PMIt doesn’t matter what age we are…blowing bubbles is always endlessly entertaining. And while it’s fun to just drift through an afternoon blowing bubbles in a zen-like state of calm, in G3 we are scientists…so it’s only fitting that we explore “bubble-ology” in a little more detail. Let’s look at the science of bubbles…

As a framework for the day’s activities, I showed this wonderful youtube video from ‘Carmelo the Science Fellow’ to our scientists. While his jokes may be corny at times, Carmelo does an excellent job talking about the science of bubbles while providing experimenters with some important tips for creating the strongest, most creative bubbles. What kind of science can be seen using bubbles? Well, first of all, bubbles can be a compelling way to prove that gases have mass. It’s easy to see that a desk or a chair (solids) have mass and take up space. But how can you show that air and other gases take up space? As you blow into a wand to create a bubble, the skin of the bubble expands and becomes a visual indicator of the increased area that the gas or air is taking up in space. Carmelo also had some great advice about creating bubbles, summarized by two clever catch phrases:

Bubbles love things that are wet, and they won’t be upset.

If a bubble touches something dry, the bubble will go ‘bye bye.’

As our G3 scientists discovered, by wetting a surface (like a paper plate), it was much easier to create large, long-standing bubbles. And a wet surface also helped to facilitate some pretty cool bubble tricks, like blowing a bubble within a bubble. You can even stab your bubble with a wand or a straw safely, as long as it’s wet! [That’s how you’re able to blow a bubble within a bubble :)]


For our experiments, the first step was for me to create a handful of tubs filled with a bubble solution for our use. I used several 33.9 oz. empty coffee canisters to hold the solution – they were deep enough to allow for some fun experimentation and also had a handy lid that I could just put on top to preserve the solution. I also used the following recipe (though tripled) from the experimentals web site:

  • 3 cups of water
  • 1/4 liquid detergent (must be dishwashing detergent – not body soap or laundry detergent; I used a store brand)
  • 2 tbs. pure glycerin (I found a small $5 bottle at CVS; Stop & Shop also sells it)
  • A pipette (or straw)
A pippette

A pipette

Though the glycerin is noted as being an optional ingredient in most recipes I found, I believe it is actually an important component and one that will make your homemade bubble solution as close to a store bought bottle as possible. The glycerine actually acts as a stabilizer, preventing the bubbles from breaking and evaporating as quickly as they would without it. You get much stronger, longer-lasting bubbles with the glycerin added in. We also used modified pipettes for creating our bubbles. We snipped off the tip of the widest portion of the pipette, and that became the end we dipped into the bubble solution, blowing in through the smaller, narrower end. However, any drinking straw would also work just fine for creating the bubbles.

I let our scientists spend a significant portion of the program experimenting with creating bubbles. Many wanted to create the single largest bubble possible; others wanted to see how many bubbles they could pile one on top of another. Most of our G3 crew found success in blowing a bubble within a bubble, and many just had fun with blowing bubbles at each other or creating cooperative bubble experiments with a neighbor. I did, of course, want to challenge our scientists, so I tested their skills and asked them all to create a square bubble.

Square bubble success!

Square bubble success!


Square bubble?! That’s right. With the right tools, a scientist can do almost anything. Using pipe cleaners and drinking straws, I gave the G3 crew instructions on how to create a 3-D cube. The pipe cleaners were cut into 4 inch lengths, and the straws were cut into 2.5 inch lengths. You need 12 pieces of each to complete the cube. Some instructions for this cube device use only pipe cleaners in the construction, but I found the design on Steve Spangler’s web site the best – it creates the most stable cube. [Full instructions for the cube assembly can be found by following my link to Steve Spangler’s web site.] Many of our scientists struggled in assembling the cubes, mostly due to soapy fingers and distractions from the sheer joy of blowing bubbles. However, we definitely had some square bubble success in both classes. How is the square bubble formed? Basically, when you completely submerge the cube into the bubble solution and then pull it out, bubble solution is stretched across each of the cube’s walls. Once you dip your pipette into the bubble solution, insert it into the center of the cube and then a blow a bubble in the center of the cube, the bubble you created pulls the walls of the cube to itself. Thus, the cube framework actually forces your malleable bubble into a square shape!  [FURTHER TESTING:  Build a 3-D triangle frame using pipe cleaners and straw pieces…do you think you could then create a triangle-shaped bubble?…]

Below is a collection of short videos showing just how much fun our scientists had with the science of bubbles. This science is definitely easy and safe enough to keep exploring from home!…



Categories: Bubbles, Properties of Matter | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Program 26: The Science of Bubbles

  1. Pingback: STEAM Team Experiments with Bubbles! | The BibliOBrien Blogs

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