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A Better Bubble
A Lesson in: Chemistry and Physics
By understanding the laws of chemistry and physics, today’s bubble masters have taken their art to new heights. You can get in on the action yourself by blending your own custom bubble mixes. Then you can experiment to see which produces the biggest, strongest, and most colorful bubbles.
Materials3 quart-size mason jars with two-piece lidsWaterDishwashing soap (preferably Dawn or Joy brands*)Glycerin (sold at drugstores and craft stores**)Guar gum ****Other brands might work, but bubble experts generally recommend these.**Glycerin costs about $7 for 6 ounces at a drugstore, so some people use corn syrup instead.***This food thickener is often sold in supermarkets (Bob’s Red Mill is one brand). You need only a small amount, though, so check the bulk food section.
InstructionsMake the Basic Formula3 cups water2 tablespoons dishwashing soap
You can make bubbles with a mix of just dishwashing soap and water, but they won’t be very big and they’ll pop very quickly. That’s why serious bubble makers add other ingredients to make their bubbles more stretchy and durable. Just a little bit of a key ingredient can make a huge difference in your bubbles! See for yourself by testing the different formulas. Label each formula so you can note its particular strengths and weaknesses.
Add GLYCERIN for Strength3 cups water2 tablespoons dishwashing soapGlycerinAlso known as glycerol, glycerin is a humectant, a substance that keeps things moist. Bubbles burst when they dry out, so adding glycerin can make them last longer. Most formulas call for about 2 teaspoons per batch, but for extra-strong bubbles, experiment with adding up to 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) per batch. The drawback: it makes your bubbles heavier and doesn’t make them bigger.
Add GUAR GUM for Size3 cups water2 tablespoons dishwashing soapGlycerinGuar gumFor amazing monster-size bubbles, you need an extra stretchy formula. You can achieve that by adding a small amount of a polymer, such as guar gum, a food thickener. (For more about polymers, see What’s Going On, page 21.)To help the guar gum dissolve better, mix ¼teaspoon of the powder with enough glycerin to create a paste. Mix the paste into the water, then add the dishwashing soap, and give everything a good stir.
Take It FurtherSome bubble formulas call for baking soda, which is said to improve the performance and stability of larger bubbles. This acidic cooking powder changes the pH of the mix to make it more neutral. Add about ½tea-spoon per quart, first mixed into a paste with glycerin, as you did with the guar gum. Add this after adding the guar gum, water, and dish soap, then cap the jar and turn it over to blend everything together. Can you observe any difference in your bubbles?
For more tips and expert advice, check out Soap Bubble Wiki online, where you can read reviews of mixtures, see amazing photos, and learn more about the role of various ingredients.
What’s Going OnA bubble is a ball of air surrounded by a thin film of liquid. Water alone is not stretchy enough to hold the air, but a mix with dishwashing soap is elastic, like a balloon. Bubbles pop when the water on their surface evaporates or touches anything dry. Adding a humectant, such as glycerin, to your mix slows down evaporation, making the bubbles last longer. Adding a polyme, makes the bubbles far more elastic so they can stretch to huge sizes
What to Watch ForSee how long the bubbles last, how strong they are, how high they fly, even how colorful they are. Try them indoors and outdoors, on a calm day and a windy day. See how each formula works when you use a big wand or a small blower (see Homemade Bubble Wands, opposite). The brand of dishwashing soap you use can have a big impact on your final mix. Dawn and Joy are recommended, so if your bubbles are not performing well, try one of those.
Tell Me MoreSince bubbles pop from evaporation, the best time to blow them outdoors is when the air is calm and muggy, such as after a rain shower. On colder days, however, your bubbles may fly higher, because your warm breath is lighter than the cold air. In extremely cold weather, you can watch your bubbles freeze into ice orbs (or watch it on YouTube). And if you really want your bubbles to last, keep them in a sealed jar with a little bubble solution on the bottom. Famous bubble entertainer Eiffel Plasterer (Google him!) is said to have kept a bubble this way for nearly a year!
Excerpted from Mason Jar Science© by Jonathan Adolph, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Messiness factor: 3 sponges