CLOSE
Original image
ISTOCK

How Understanding Champagne Bubbles May Improve Energy Efficiency

Original image
ISTOCK

When you open a bottle of champagne, it's almost always a momentous occasion—and we're not just talking about the cause behind the celebration (whatever it is, congrats!). The physical act of uncorking the bottle is exciting and dramatic, and it's all thanks to carbon dioxide.

It's the release of CO2 that leads to the characteristic “pop” of the cork and the bubbles in your glass. The gas escapes in the form of those bubbles—once the champagne hits the flute, the bubbles form and detach, rising toward the liquid’s surface. When they reach the surface, they pop, emitting that fizzy, crackling sound and letting loose an upward spray of tiny droplets. This phenomenon is known as effervescence, and it’s about three times more active in champagne compared to other carbonated drinks like beer. (See? Champagne really is more festive.) By the time the bottle goes flat, nearly 2 million of those tiny bubbles have popped.  

Despite their small size, the bubbles in a bottle of champagne can pack quite a punch. They shoot upwards with a velocity of almost 10 feet per second, reaching heights as high as an inch above the drink's surface. In fact, a champagne cork can pop at speeds up to 31 miles per hour

We prize them today, but back in the day, bubbles were regarded as a sign of bad winemaking. All that began to change after a long period of unusually cool temperatures—often referred to as the Little Ice Age—hit Europe in the late 13th century. As temperatures dropped, lakes and rivers froze all over the continent, and the winemaking monks at the Abbey of Hautvillers in Champagne, France found their product’s fermentation process halted by the cold. When it warmed up, the fermentation continued, resulting in an excess of carbon dioxide and champagne’s signature fizz. Some bottles accumulated so much extra carbon dioxide that they would explode in their store rooms.

In 1668, a monk new to the abbey, Dom Pierre Pérignon, was tasked with thwarting the pesky double fermentation that caused the exploding casks. However, as tastes changed and demand grew for fizzy wine, Pérignon was instead asked to make the wine even bubblier, and that double fermentation soon became standard in the production of champagne and its signature sparkle.

Now, physicists are using those tiny bubbles to study the real-world applications of effervescence. It might surprise you, but the behavior of bubbles is still a bit of a mystery. Physicist Gérard Liger-Belair, author of Uncorked: The Science of Champagne told Smithsonian.com: “[Bubbles] play a crucial role in many natural as well as industrial processes—in chemical and mechanical engineering, oceanography, geophysics, technology, and even medicine. Nevertheless, their behavior is often surprising and, in many cases, still not fully understood.”

The behavior of bubbles found in boiling water in steam turbines closely resembles that of the bubbles in chilled champagne. Both types of bubbles undergo what is called Ostwald ripening (named for German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, who discovered the phenomenon), wherein small particles give way to the more energetically stable larger particles. Under Ostwald ripening, smaller bubbles collapse in favor of larger bubbles, until only one large bubble remains. The rate at which the bubbles form relies on how fast the liquid changes to gas, and since this change occurs at the surface of the bubble, the faster the liquid molecules reach the bubble’s surface, the faster the rate of bubble formation and growth as the evaporation rate accelerates.

No one can quite settle on an answer as to how quickly different-sized bubbles form in liquids, and it's that missing link that could potentially serve to improve boiler systems and steam-powered reactors. When bubbles pop, they exert a small amount of force that, over time, can cause wear on things like pipes and propeller blades where boiling water is an occupational hazard. While that sort of hardware is designed to stave off such effects, scientists are now trying to better understand the source of the problem rather than just playing defense. The aim is to prevent degradation and optimize the efficiency in steam-powered technologies, and such studies could eventually be useful in other fields, like with foams or metal alloys.

It's with that intention that scientists continue to study bubbles and their modern-day applications—far beyond the champagne flute.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Scientists Discover a Mysterious Void in the Great Pyramid of Giza
Original image
iStock

The Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest in all of Egypt, was built more than 4500 years ago as the final resting place of the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops), who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BCE. Modern Egyptologists have been excavating and studying it for more than a century, but it's still full of mysteries that have yet to be fully solved. The latest discovery, detailed in a new paper in the journal Nature, reveals a hidden void located with the help of particle physics. This is the first time a new inner structure has been located in the pyramid since the 19th century.

The ScanPyramids project, an international endeavor launched in 2015, has been using noninvasive scanning technology like laser imaging to understand Egypt's Old Kingdom pyramids. This discovery was made using muon tomography, a technique that generates 3D images from muons, a by-product of cosmic rays that can pass through stone better than similar technology based on x-rays, like CT scans. (Muon tomography is currently used to scan shipping containers for smuggled goods and image nuclear reactor cores.)

The ScanPyramids team works inside Khufu's Pyramid
ScanPyramids

The newly discovered void is at least 100 feet long and bears a structural resemblance to the section directly below it: the pyramid's Grand Gallery, a long, 26-foot-high inner area of the pyramid that feels like a "very big cathedral at the center of the monument," as engineer and ScanPyramids co-founder Mehdi Tayoubi said in a press briefing. Its size and shape were confirmed by three different muon tomography techniques.

They aren't sure what it would have been used for yet or why it exists, or even if it's one structure or multiple structures together. It could be a horizontal structure, or it could have an incline. In short, there's a lot more to learn about it.

In the past few years, technology has allowed researchers to access parts of the Great Pyramid never seen before. Several robots sent into the tunnels since the '90s have brought back images of previously unseen areas. Almost immediately after starting to examine the Great Pyramid with thermal imaging in 2015, the researchers discovered that some of the limestone structure was hotter than other parts, indicating internal air currents moving through hidden chambers. In 2016, muon imaging indicated that there was at least one previously unknown void near the north face of Khufu's pyramid, though the researchers couldn't identify where exactly it was or what it looked like. Now, we know its basic structure.

A rendering shows internal chambers within the Great Pyramid and the approximate structure of the newly discovered void.
ScanPyramids

"These results constitute a breakthrough for the understanding of Khufu's Pyramid and its internal structure," the ScanPyramids team writes in Nature. "While there is currently no information about the role of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world's archaeological heritage."

Original image
Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images
arrow
History
Einstein's Handwritten Note on Happiness Just Sold for $1.3 Million
Original image
Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images

Albert Einstein was on his way to becoming a household name when he took a trip to Japan in 1922. The scientist had just learned that he would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, and word of his accomplishments was spreading beyond his home country of Germany. In light of his rising stardom, he gave an unconventional tip to his bellboy after checking into his Tokyo hotel: He jotted down a note on a piece of paper in place of giving him cash, saying it "will probably be worth more than a regular tip" in the future. Nearly a century later, NBC News reports, the same note has sold at auction for $1.3 million.

The message, which has come to be referred to as “Einstein’s Theory of Happiness,” looks much different from the ideas about time and space the theoretical physicist is known for. It reads: "A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Einstein's "Theory of Happiness" letter.
Menahem Kahana, Getty Images

On Tuesday, October 24, the item went to auction in Jerusalem along with a second note reading "Where there's a will there's a way" that Einstein wrote for the bellboy on the same occasion. The first message was scribbled on official Imperial Hotel paper and the second on a blank sheet of scrap paper. Both were signed and dated 1922.

Following a 25-minute bidding war, Einstein’s theory of happiness was claimed by an anonymous buyer for $1.3 million, making it the highest-priced document ever sold at auction in Israel. The second artifact sold for more than $200,000, according to the auction house. It may have taken a while to pay off, but Einstein's gift turned out to be one of the most generous tips in history. Whether it's going to a relative or descendent of the bellboy is unclear; both seller and buyer are unidentified.   

The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which Einstein helped found, was bequeathed his literary estate and personal papers upon his death. Earlier this year, letters on God, Israel, and physics brought in $210,000 at an auction in the Israeli capital.

[h/t NBC News]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios