Last week I was interviewed by a Naked Scientist!!!
You probably have met Laurie at last year’s Summer Science Exhibition, while she was presenting her research on energy harvesting.
Laurie proposed to come to the microbubble laboratory at NPL… and this was my first radio interview in English…I was almost tempted to refuse. But when she promised to tell me some tips on the Exhibition…I could not really tell her “no” ;-)
So, let me know what you think!
PS: Naked Scientists are very skilled radio broadcaster, that decided to spend some of their time to communicate science.
Packing a stand is quite demanding: so many months of creative effort (discussing until late, woodworking cabinets into organs and games, choosing the right hue for each bubble…) disappeared into boxes in 30 minutes!
Think about your latest house move…and you’ll understand what I mean!
Well, this time Andrew caught me resting just after packing the bacdrop…. In my hands, the most fragile part of the stand: the fishbowl hosting the Cavitator!
Following my latest post, one of my colleagues pointed my attention to the phenomenon of bubbles in Guinness beer…which go downwards.
After careful experimental testing at the local pub (yeah! that was a field trip I liked), I found a publication explaining the issue in scientific “jargon”. Luckily for us, the authors also have a nice website where they explain why.
Now, how could it be possible that this phenomenon that happens everyday in thousands of pubs all around the world since 300 years ago could only be explained so recently?
Well, this happens a lot with bubbles: they are central in a lot of our everyday experiences…they do their job, but often we don’t exactly know why.
This is one of the reasons why I am so fascinated by them!
This weekend I was exploring the nearest shopping center (i.e., in Kingston-upon-Thames) and I spotted a sign advertising bubble tea!
As you might have guessed, I could not resist…and here I am, entering the shop, with my wife shaking her head in a disapproving way behind me.
I ordered a peach-flavoured green tea with strawberry “bubbles” and I started imaging what I could get. No chance!…
My first surprise was the size of the straw: its hole could have been 1 cm in diameter. That is, huge.
Now, bubbles in my lab always go upwards…it’s buoyancy or, if you did classical studies, old Archimedes’ principle (objects that are lighter than the liquid go upwards). Imagine my surprise in finding that the “bubbles” were at the bottom of the glass and not at the top.
It turned out that “bubbles” were like hollow candies: something between droplets of candy and rice-crispies….but worth the experience.
Coming back home, I started surfing the internet and found this image, that explains it all:
It looks like student at Stanford like to have good fun! I wonder if they also had the same crisps and cheap nuts that we had at University during our gatherings…:-)
But back to business: googling “science & bubble tea” I found the website of some newly open bars in Central London. Well, now I know what to visit during my (very short) breaks at Carlton House!
I am a PhD student studying the properties of bubbles which are so small they can barely be seen by the naked eye. In the lab it is possible to handle these ‘microbubbles’ with sound and light, a process where we can move them with great dexterity but not touching them at all. These bubbles are set for a bright future in medicine, with plenty of new applications just an arm’s reach away. As the only serious person in the group, I decided to have my picture taken in the microbubble laboratory at NPL…I hope you like it!
I am currently studying for a DPhil at Oxford University in Engineering Science, which is a bit of a departure from my undergrad course in theoretical physics. At the moment I am working on a project that aims to characterise microbubbles by making accurate theoretical models of how they behave when they are excited by ultrasound.
In this picture, I am verifying the acoustics of an ancient theatre. Can you spot the bubbles in this picture? Come to the exhibition to know where they are!
The word comes from “cavitation”: the formation of bubbles in a liquid when there is a sudden change of pressure. Just like when you open a coke can and all the foam comes out….or when the waves hit the beach. I promise to tell you more about this phenomenon in the next days, but here is a glimpse on our usual duo building the kit.
The Cavitator is a place where you will be able to explore how kidney stones are destroyed (using ultrasound), how glasses are cleaned before we can buy and use them to see better…how it is possible to manipulate bubbles with sound.
And, remember: “bubbles make sound, sound makes bubbles…which is the sound of bubbles?” :-)
I’m a biomedical engineer at the University of Oxford working on the use of microbubbles for medical imaging and drug delivery. My research focuses on new methods for manufacturing and manipulating microbubbles with a high degree of control to improve their performance in clinical applications. This includes engineering new types of microbubble, for example to contain magnetic nanoparticles, which allow the bubbles to be remotely “steered” within the body to a target location. We have recently successfully demonstrated their use for gene therapy and are currently investigating their application in the detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Today all the pieces arrived (yeah!), so we started building our exhibits.
We started from the piece that we have been discussing for so long: the Bubble Organ. It is one of our exhibits based on the relationship between bubbles and sound (“bubbles make sound, sound makes bubbles…which is the sound of bubbles?”).
Here you can see Andrew and Ian working on the instructions…
…I imagine you spotted easily what is wrong with their reading!
Once solved the reading problem, here is Andrew making his way through the work:
Christian Baker is currently undertaking research in ultrasound imaging and quantitative ultrasound measurement for medicine, specifically in the application of phase-insensitive sensing technology to these areas. He is also working on applying optical and thermal techniques to sound field visualisation.
In this picture, you can see enjoying a sunny day thinking of his birthday, which is TODAY!…and since this is his birthday, he gets an extra picture: you can spot him talking about a very large bubble he had just seen.
Elly works on medical ultrasound in the acoustics group at NPL. Her work includes measurement of temperature in High Intensity Focused Ultrasound fields using thermal test objects and infrared imaging, modelling of ultrasonic field propagation and measurement services for hydrophone and radiation force balance calibrations. In this picture, she is shooting at a bubble passing by…
Ian Butterworth conducts leading-edge research in Sound-in-Air and Ultrasonic at the National Physical Laboratory. His range of interests spans the detection and categorisation of ultrasonic and hydrodynamic cavitation; acousto-optic measurement of both ultrasonic and audio sound fields; the development of web-based data visualisation tools; and the promotion of NPL’s work through various public outreach channels.
Ian is also a keen ‘hacker’, having built CloudChamber.co for Music Hack Day London 2011, a website that allowed anyone to remotely use the acoustic reverberation chamber at NPL for their own recordings.
In this picture you can see him playing in his band.
These days I am in Leiden (NL) for a conference, sharing ideas with other 60 colleagues (mainly French and Dutch) working on bubbles.
The topic of discussion is: can we manipulate bubbles using sound? There is some impressive research out there: people use sound to mix fluids drop by drop, levitate objects, create sonic screwdrivers.
What was science fiction when I was a kid is turning real in a fascinating way!
Why should we? Why cities on other planets are always enclosed in bubbles? Why not a cube? Or a more interesting shape?
It all comes from the reason why soap bubbles (and air bubbles in a liquid) are spherical when free: the sphere is the shape which needs less energy to be maintained. Therefore, by being spherical, soap bubbles are saving energy. Living in bubbles would then be cheap and environmentally friendly.
Wow! If this were true, why not moving all in bubbles now? How far are we from building bubble-shaped houses?
Well, not far at all.
The first step, in my opinion, was putting an elephant in a bubble:
which was done live on BBC in 2008.
Next step was putting people in bubbles. the Guinness World of Record reports an escalation from 19 kids in a bubble (2007), to 50 kids in 2009, to the amazing number of 118 people in a bubble in 2011
She asked me to prepare a presentation for her 11 year pupils and then we had lunch together.
The journey across London, with my bag full of bubbly tricks, is always challenging: the bag also contains pre-prepared soapy water that I tend to re-use and is therefore quite heavy. Leaving Teddington, where NPL is, I particularly dislike the long corridors at Waterloo, leading from the train station to the Northern Line. Apart from these, the journey was quite nice, in a beautiful sunny day.
Here we were trying to control the shape of soap bubbles: starting with the pyramid
and soon moving to cubic bubbles. But when the bubbles were blown out…
…they came out spherical again. It turns out that the sphere is the shape that needs less energy to be made and therefore bubbles always try to turn back into them. However, in presence of other bubbles (or a frame) other shapes are possible.
And here, we discovered bubbles in marshmallows…
by pumping out the air from a bottle containing the sweets.
The amount of bubbles in food is very important for their taste: they cannot be too big, otherwise no food is left, but they cannot be too small either. There is a nice story about Margaret Thatcher and ice cream, that proves this!
Dr Phil Jones is a physicist at University College London. His main line of work is with ‘optical tweezers’ a way of holding and moving microscopic objects using laser light. This has lead to using them for holding gas microbubbles and ultimately to this collaboration with NPL for combining optical and ultrasonic trapping methods.
In this picture, Dr Jones is “looking for new horizons of research, preparing to boldly go…where none has trapped before”.
Louise Wright makes mathematical models of physical experiments. She uses finite element analysis [FEA] (and other similar methods) to simulate a range of physical processes, including fluid flow, material deformation under load, and heat transfer. Her models allow scientists to predict what they can’t measure directly, to ensure that equipment is fit for purpose before it’s commissioned, and to get a better understanding of the key factors affecting the results of their experiments.
For the microbubble project she is simulating the deformation of a bubble in an ultrasound field using FEA.
In this picture, Louise (in red, on the right) is “delighted by her explanation of mass traceability to Jeremy Paxman”.
More than 100 scientists were involved, we counted 3000 visitors and prepared at least 1500 ice-creams pouring liquid nitrogen.
Our team tested some of our ideas for the summer Exhibition and some of us had their first interaction with the crowds. I was spotted making soap bubbles at the entrance….and you will probably meet at the exhibition some of the scientists you spot in the pictures.
…this is my first blog. Well, actually I have tried to keep a blog a looong time ago, but laziness caught me very soon. Now, I plan to update you on the great show we are preparing…at least once a week.
I will ask my colleagues to let you hear their voice, because preparing a stand is first of all a collective effort. In this case, you will find their initials at the end of the post.
It all started one day in November. Atmosphere would require rainy weather, a storm, lightning falling on the ground: nothing of this, it was one of the fair days that we had last winter. One of those days when London is beautiful. One of those days that we spend in the lab, wondering why we are missing the sun out.
The phone rings, it was A.: “Shall we put together an application for the RSSE, based on your bubble research?”….
While Andrew was explaining the procedure, my mind wandered in a bubble of silence, filled with a lifetime of thoughts: I heard the voice of L. (she was exhibiting in Carlton house last year!) talking of the great fun and of the huge work behind the scenes, I remembered the smiles at my last school lecture, my wife’s warning about me spending too much time after bubbles, the pleasure of telling people why I like this job (and sometimes why I don’t like it…)…
Then, “Yes, let’s do it!”.
A brainstorming session, a lot of enthusiasm in NPL’s communication team, ideas more than what we could put on the application form and then…sent.
The answer arrived like a Christmas present: Andrew was so excited that he almost babbled the result of the selection.