Exploring science through bubbles

Youth in Alpena and Alcona counties learned some chemistry while playing with bubbles.

Two youth make a giant bubble together.
Two youth make a giant bubble together.

Youth at the Alpena and Alcona county fairs engaged in some bubble science this summer. Families attending the county fairs had an opportunity to explore bubbles during this years’ Science Spectacular: The Science of Bubbles. Youth and their families used bubble loops to make giant bubbles, a fly swatter to make hundreds of bubbles, a hula hoop to make a bubble tunnel and created bubble foam by blowing through a modified water bottle. While having fun with bubbles, youth learned the basic science behind a bubble.

Participants learned a soap bubble is a thin layer of water sandwiched between two layers of soap molecules. Soap molecules have a polar head that is attracted to the polar water layer and a nonpolar tail that extends away from the water. When the water layer evaporates, the bubble pops. Glycerin is added to the soapy water to make the bubbles last longer. The glycerin bonds to the water molecules, slowing the rate of evaporation so the bubbles last longer and can be bigger.

Playing with bubbles not only teaches some basic chemistry, it engages youth in the process of science, observing, exploring, asking questions and predicting, which leads to a deeper understanding of the world around us. Playing with bubbles can also help youth develop:

  • Visual tracking skills as youth follow the path of the bubble.
  • Hand-eye coordination as youth coordinate dipping the wand and blowing bubbles.
  • Sensory perception skills. Bubbles are wet, slippery and can reflect a rainbow of colors.
  • Oral motor control and lung development. It takes careful control and lung capacity to successfully blow bubbles.
  • Gross motor skills. Bubble catching is a great way to get kids to reach high, stand on tippy toes, squat, jump, run, stomp and kick.

Girl blows a bubble Kids make a bubble Bubble hula hoop

Youth learn how to create bubble foam with a water bottle, make giant bubbles with bubble loops and produce a bubble tunnel with a hula hoop.

Engaging youth with bubbles can be a great way to have fun as a family or 4-H club while strengthening skills youth will carry with them throughout their life.

You can engage youth in an exploration of bubbles by checking out GEMS Bubble Festival from Lawrence Hall of Science. For more ways to share science with youth, explore the Michigan State University Extension Science and Technology website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your county MSU Extension office.

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