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Freezing Soap Bubbles are Magical Orbs of Awesome

This might be the most satisfying bubble video in the history of bubble videos. Shot by photographer Chris Ratzlaff near his home in Calgary, Canada, it shows the moment a soap bubble freezes, exposing the formation of beautiful crystal structures. You can actually do this at home, should you be fortunate to live somewhere cold – that is, really cold.

To understand what’s happening in the video, we first have to understand what a soap bubble actually is. The iridescent orb might look like one surface, but if you were to dissect a bubble on a microscopic scale, you would find it has three layers: a thin sheet of water molecules sandwiched between two layers of soap molecules.

This layering happens because of the chemical structure of soap. One end of a soap molecule is attracted to water (hydrophilic) and the other avoids water (hydrophobic). As you can imagine, this difference in attraction results in a lot of pushing and shoving within the layers, much like what would happen if you put opposing magnets together. As the hydrophobic bits move to the outer and inner surfaces of the film, they actually spread the water molecules apart, reducing surface tension. It’s this tension reduction that allows a bubble to form. What you’re seeing in Ratzlaff’s video is the layer of water crystalizing within the soapy sandwich.


To get the effect, your bubble has to be blown in an environment chilled to around -13 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature at which hell freezes over), and store-bought soap won’t quite do the trick. But you can recreate this at home with a bit of mixology.

“[Even at this temperature], frozen bubbles are still very fragile creatures,” explains Ratzlaff. “So I’ve experimented with different recipes to create a durable bubble wall that won’t pop in the slightest breeze; The trick is to get a very thick bubble solution. You need dish soap for the bubbling, corn syrup to thicken the wall and sugar to help crystallization. I let the mixture chill in the freezer to help speed up the freezing once outside.”

Should you want to give it a go, Ratzlaff has generously shared his formula:
– 200ml warm water
– 35ml corn syrup
– 35ml dish soap
– 2 tablespoons sugar

If you’re wondering why the frozen bubble seems to explode at the end of the video, this has to do with air pressure. As the bubble freezes, the air that was trapped within the sphere slowly begins to diffuse through the film. When enough air escapes , the bubble shatters under its own weight!

Not enough bubbly goodness for you? Check out some of those microscopic layers in action:

IMAGES: Ratzlaff/YouTube

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