This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


Why tiny bubbles don’t burst

By Hamish Johnston

Bubbles are wonderful things – as well as giving children hours of fun, they provide physicists with a number of fascinating phenomena to study and genuine mysteries to solve.

One curious effect that physicists have known about for some time is that tiny air bubbles in water will last much longer when they are stuck on a surface – rather than floating freely. A free bubble with a diameter of 100 nm or less will only survive a few microseconds, while a bubble of similar size on a surface can endure for days.

Why is this interesting, you might wonder? For one thing, controlling nanobubbles can be very important when designing tiny machines that shift fluids about. A coating of nanobubbles could make it easier for a fluid to flow along a tiny channel. Conversely, bubbles in the wrong place could gum up the works. Nanobubbles could someday be designed to carry drugs to specific places in the body, popping on arrival.

Such applications could be one step closer thanks to work published today in Physical Review Letters. Joost Weijs and Detlef Lohse at the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have devised a theoretical model that tries to explain why bubbles on a surface stick around for so much longer.

The pair say that two important effects are at play. The first – and most obvious – is that bubbles stuck to a surface aren’t spherical, but rather are flattened out on the surface. This means that they have radii of curvature that are much larger than spheres of similar volume. It’s well known that the smaller the radius of curvature, the faster that gas leaks from a bubble.

The second reason is related to the fact that the nanobubbles are fixed on a surface and tend to be surrounded by other nanobubbles. This means that the liquid in the vicinity of the surface becomes saturated with escaping gas molecules that must diffuse away. This puts the brakes on gas that is trying to diffuse out of the bubbles. Free bubbles don’t have this problem because as they rise in a liquid, they move away from gas molecules that they have released.

You can read the paper here.

This isn’t the first time that a paper has appeared in Physical Review Letters about nanobubbles. In 2011 Lohse and two other colleagues at Twente published this novel proposal about how nanobubbles on surfaces could be recycling gas molecules.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

One comment to Why tiny bubbles don’t burst

  1. You actually make it seem really easy with your
    presentation but I in finding this matter to be really one thing that I feel I might by no means understand.
    It kind of feels too complex and extremely large for me.
    I am having a look ahead to your next post, I will try to get the hold of it!


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text