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Which Materials Can Catch a Bubble?

Abstract

Can you catch a bubble with your hands? What if you use another material, like a piece of paper or aluminum foil? Try this science project to find out which materials can catch a bubble without popping it.

Summary

Areas of Science
Difficulty
 
Time Required
Very Short (≤ 1 day)
Prerequisites
None
Material Availability
Readily available
Cost
Very Low (under $20)
Safety
No issues
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
A soap bubble rests on a square sheet of red felt next to square sheets of other materials

Objective

Find out which materials can catch a bubble without popping it.

Introduction

Bubbles are fun and beautiful—but they are also fragile! Bubbles are made from a thin film of soapy water with air inside. Many things can cause this film to break, popping the bubble. Bubbles will frequently pop when they come in contact with a solid surface, but they can even pop without touching anything, as the water in them gradually evaporates and the film gets weaker. However, sometimes you might notice that bubbles can land without popping.

Whether a bubble pops when it comes in contact with a solid surface depends on many factors, including the surface properties of the material. You probably know that different materials have different properties, some of which you can see or feel, like color or hardness. However, materials have other properties that are harder to detect directly. Surfaces can be hydrophobic (repel water) or hydrophilic (attract water). You can observe this by dropping water onto it and seeing whether the drops form big beads (hydrophobic) or spread out in thin sheets (hydrophilic). Whether a material is hydrophobic or hydrophilic depends strongly on its surface roughness.

Some materials, like sandpaper, have macroscopic surface features, meaning you can feel the bumps and see them with your naked eye. However, other materials have microscopic surface features. Even if a material looks and feels smooth to you, it might have very tiny bumps or pores. These can actually help the material repel water, because the surface of the water, held together by surface tension, is unable to penetrate the tiny gaps in the material. Other materials, like paper or sponges, have larger gaps that help them absorb water.

All of these properties, along with factors like how fast the bubble is moving and whether the surface is wet, can affect the likelihood that the bubble will pop when it lands.

Terms and Concepts

Questions

Bibliography

Read all about bubbles on this website from the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco, developed by Exploratorium scientist Ron Hipschman:

  • Hipschman, R., 1995. Bubbles, The Exploratorium Museum, San Francisco, CA. Retrieved June 6, 2007.

This article explains the components of a bubble formula and the history of bubbles:

  • Pepling, R., 2003. What's That Stuff? Soap Bubbles, Chemical and Engineering News, Volume 81, Number 17, pp. 34, publication of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Retrieved June 6, 2007.

For help creating graphs, try this website:

  • National Center for Education Statistics, (n.d.). Create a Graph. Retrieved June 25, 2020.

Materials and Equipment

Experimental Procedure

  1. Prepare a data table like Table 1. Fill in the different materials you will test in the first column.
Material Bubble #1 Bubble #2 Bubble #3 Bubble #4 Bubble #5 Number of bubbles that did NOT pop
       
       
       
Table 1. Example data table
  1. Prepare the different materials you will test (Figure 1).
A bubble rests on a square of felt next to squares of plastic wrap, bubble wrap, cardboard, wax paper and aluminum foil
Figure 1. Example experimental setup.
  1. Try to blow a single bubble onto your first material. It is OK if you blow more than one bubble, but you will have to keep track of all of them, so try not to blow too many. You can ask a volunteer to watch the bubbles if that helps.
    1. If the bubble pops as soon as it touches the material, write "popped" in the "Bubble #1" column for that material.
    2. If the bubble lands on the material without popping right away, write "not popped" in the "Bubble #1" column for that material (even if it pops a few seconds after it lands).
  2. Repeat step 3 four more times for this material.
  3. Repeat steps 3–4 for each of your remaining materials.
  4. For each material, add up the number of bubbles that did not pop. Write this number in the last column of your data table.
  5. Make a bar graph of your results, with the material name on the x-axis and the number of unpopped bubbles on the y-axis.
  6. Based on your results, which material was best at catching bubbles? Which material was the worst? How do your results compare to your predictions?
icon scientific method

Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? Our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Variations

  • Does the orientation of the surface matter? Try using some tape to put your materials on a wall, or even on the ceiling. Can you still get bubbles to land on them?
  • Try different recipes for a homemade bubble solution, as described in this project. Which bubbles are easiest to catch?

Careers

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

Career Profile
What makes it possible to create high-technology objects like computers and sports gear? It's the materials inside those products. Materials scientists and engineers develop materials, like metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites, that other engineers need for their designs. Materials scientists and engineers think atomically (meaning they understand things at the nanoscale level), but they design microscopically (at the level of a microscope), and their materials are used macroscopically… Read more
Career Profile
Chemical engineers solve the problems that affect our everyday lives by applying the principles of chemistry. If you enjoy working in a chemistry laboratory and are interested in developing useful products for people, then a career as a chemical engineer might be in your future. Read more

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Cite This Page

General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Finio, Ben. "Which Materials Can Catch a Bubble?" Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/MatlSci_p045/materials-science/materials-catchbubbles. Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

APA Style

Finio, B. (2020, November 20). Which Materials Can Catch a Bubble? Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/MatlSci_p045/materials-science/materials-catchbubbles


Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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