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The Mystery of Champagne Bubbles Rising in a Straight Line Solved

The chemicals in champagne may enable bubbles to ascend in a straight column

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The effervescent bubbles in champagne and other carbonated beverages have the ability to rise in smooth, vertical columns due to certain chemicals that also contribute to the taste of these drinks.

Typically, when a bubble rises in a liquid, it creates a wake behind it that can jostle other bubbles in its vicinity. However, champagne bubbles manage to ascend from the bottom of a glass in a straight line without being veered off course.

A researcher named Roberto Zenit from Brown University in Rhode Island and his team conducted an experiment where they eliminated the gas from fizzy drinks such as carbonated water, beer, and champagne. They then poured these liquids into a tank equipped with a needle at its base, injected bursts of air through the needle, and observed how the bubbles rose.

The observations from the experiment were combined with a mathematical model that explained how certain properties of liquids influence the swirling that occurs around a bubble. The researchers identified two factors that influence this swirling: the size of the bubbles and the concentration of molecules called surfactants. Surfactants include fatty acids that give champagne its fruity flavor and proteins that contribute to the taste of beer. These molecules adhere to the bubbles and affect the mobility of the bubble’s surface.

Bubbles that are large and elliptical, as well as bubbles coated with surfactants, induce more swirling, which disrupts the wakes of nearby bubbles, preventing any sideways collisions. This allows the bubbles to rise in stable, vertical chains, one above another. Champagne bubbles are typically small, making it unlikely for them to form consistent columns. However, thanks to the presence of fatty acids in sparkling wine, they are able to do so.

Understanding the relationship between surfactants and bubbles is a complex task because the motion of the bubbles can alter the concentration of surfactants by dispersing them throughout the liquid, explains Stéphane Dorbolo from the University of Liege in Belgium. Discoveries such as those provided by this study could also have implications for non-carbonated beverages like whiskey, where experts already estimate the alcohol content by observing the bubbling that occurs when bottles are shaken.

Gérard Liger-Belair from the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France emphasizes that comprehending the behavior of groups of bubbles is also crucial for industrial processes such as froth flotation, which employs bubbling to separate different particles present in water.

Topics:

  • food science/
  • fluid dynamics

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