Bubble Behavior: Scientists Solve 500-Year-Old Mystery


| LAST UPDATE 02/27/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Scientists Solve 500-Year-Old Mystery
Mutlu Kurtbas Via gettyimages.com

Ever find yourself mesmerized by those tiny floating bubbles in a glass of water? It turns out that even the most renowned thinkers, including Leonardo da Vinci himself, were captivated and perplexed by them. Put your scientific thinking cap on, because we're about to reveal the answer to a 500-year-old mystery...

For hundreds of years, researchers - including genius scientist Leonardo da Vinci - have been astounded by why small bubbles in water shoot straight up, and larger ones dance about. If you pour a liquid - any liquid - into a glass, you'll notice some bubbles ascent faster than others, though you may not know why! But thanks to mathematical precision and conceptual understanding, researchers have finally unraveled this mystery with a study that offers an intuitive solution.

leonardo da vinci mystery solved
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Using keen experimental practices, a team of resourceful scientists created an impressive data set to explore their theories. Through their apparatus, they emitted air bubbles into hyper-pure water with impeccable precision — that is -- until something unexpected occurred! Those smaller than 0.91mm (1/32 inch) rose smoothly upwards while those greater deflected off course: wobbling and spiraling in peculiar paths before dissipating away. To gain a deeper understanding of the bubbles' behavior, the authors conducted further tests. When pressure was applied to them, the two forms of matter - water and air - glided along each other's sides in fluent harmony - never breaking apart!

To explain the phenomenon of "bubble wobbling", researchers utilized creative mathematical solutions to present an elegant computer model. By presuming a flat top and curved bottom on spherical bubbles, they determined that when certain criteria is met (0.926mm or more in diameter), low-pressure vortices form underneath it; destabilizing its center of gravity - resulting in characteristic bubble tipping! The Bernoulli principle is demonstrated here in a delightful way--just like blowing over light paper causes it to be lifted up. As the curved side of the bubble rises more quickly, water flows swiftly across its surface due to lower pressure on that side. This rapid flow pushes aside surrounding liquid particles and moves the bubble sideways into a zig pattern - an effect caused by differences in air velocity! The bubble moved in an unexpected manner, quickly curving and ascending to create a new pressure system that sent it back towards its origin. Through centuries of hard work, fluid mechanics have advanced immensely. Let's toast to their progress!

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