Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Using soap bubbles to better understand hurricane trajectories

Science Daily: Researchers at the Centre de Physique Moléculaire Optique et Hertzienne (CPMOH) (CNRS/Université Bordeaux (1) and the Université de la Réunion(1) have discovered that vortices created in soap bubbles behave like real cyclones and hurricanes in the atmosphere. Soap bubbles have enabled the researchers to characterize for the first time the random factor that governs the movement and paths of vortices. These results, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, could lead to a better understanding of such increasingly common and often devastating atmospheric phenomena.

A soap bubble is an ideal model for studying the atmosphere because it has analogous physical properties and, like the atmosphere, it is composed of a very thin film in relation to its diameter. In this experiment, the researchers created a half soap bubble that they heated at the “equator” and then cooled at the “poles”, thereby creating a single large vortex, similar to a hurricane, in the wall of the bubble. The researchers studied the movement of this vortex, which fluctuates in a random manner. This is characterized by a law known as a superdiffusive law(3), well known to physicists, but which had not until then been observed in the case of single vortices in a turbulent environment.

Photo of a soap bubble by "brokenchopstick," Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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