One of the most surreal moments in my journalism career took place yesterday afternoon as I assisted in a bizarre science experiment, prompted by an online gallery of online soap bubbles.
Knowing that online sources are not always accurate, I wondered if we could replicate the experiment, given the painfully cold temperatures we’ve experienced recently.
I enlisted our photographer, Brian Korthals, to help me, since my photography skills regarding tiny fast-moving flying objects are not really all that good.
Brian was totally enthusiastic about the project and a couple of newsroom staffers gave it a shot right then with a small bottle of bubble solution I’d given a coworker as part of a May basket one year.
The bubbles didn’t freeze (as far as we could see) and quickly blew away; plus they were too small to make a really good photograph. Brian resolved to buy some bubble solution with a bigger wand and try it again the next day.
We also found online that the other frozen-bubble-makers had found it impossible to blow bubbles because their breath was too warm for them to freeze afterward, and wondered if that would prove to be a factor.
The next day, we also wondered if we’d have a large enough bubble wand, and experimented with using a bag tie and wire, but the wand was deemed good enough.
So Brian and I went into the Globe parking lot, and I blew bubbles while my teeth were chattering and he tried to get them on camera. The wind was the wrong way and we ended up moving first to the side of the building and then to the front entryway, which was somewhat sheltered from the wind.
The bubbles were still kind of small and hard to catch on camera, but they were indeed freezing and they did explode into tiny ice crystals when they popped. So the theory was sound.
We needed a larger bubble wand.
After Brian filled up his camera’s card, we went inside, where I eventually got the feeling back in my fingers. Meanwhile, Judy Johnson, who saw us blowing bubbles outside the office, asked us what in the heck we were doing (although she said it much more politely). When she found out she volunteered to bring us a larger bubble wand.
To my surprise, the entire newsroom was fascinated by the idea and by the pictures in the other online gallery and everybody crowded around outside to watch the bubble-freezing process, which we now knew to be successful.
It was very cold, so the second jaunt didn’t take longer than 15-20 minutes. We found that Judy’s larger bubble wand (which she very graciously did bring us!) and its bubble solution were highly superior to the cheap stuff we had been using before. It produced lovely, large bubbles and even though I still used my breath to create them, they did freeze, as you can see from the above photo.
Brian is an amazing photographer and he managed to nab a few of the bubbles on camera, including one that burst while he was taking a series of photos. That’s the one that ended up on the front page of the paper today.
The effect when they explode is extremely cool, especially in the sunlight. The little ice shards sparkle.
If you’re going to do this, find a sheltered spot away from wind and be sure to bundle up. Wear gloves especially; having bubble solution freezing onto your hands isn’t fun. It’s easier to toss soapy gloves into the washing machine than to have your fingers frozen together.
Also, use a large bubble wand. The one Judy gave us (thank you so much, Judy!) was several inches long.
If you’re going to try to capture this in a photograph… well, you’re going to need either a lot of luck or a really good photographer. It helps to have the larger bubbles and a dark background of some sort so you can see them.
I don’t know whether commercial or home-brew bubble mix would work best, but feel free to experiment.
I’m guessing if you use a bubble-making mechanism other than breath, you won’t get the air-poof (visible in the third picture) because there won’t be an unusual amount of water vapor or warm air inside the bubble, but that would require experimentation to find out.
Finally, have fun! This might make a good science experiment to share with a young kid, provided you bundle them up properly and don’t keep them outdoors too long in this icy icy weather.
Notice in the (more heavily photoshopped) version of the bubble to the right and above, you can see the stop sign as well as a few of the curious Globe newsroom staff watching the frozen-bubble process.