Exploring the Science of Light
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Why Are Bubbles So Colorful?

Just a little soapy water and a ring through which to blow the soap film is all you need. Even on the soapy film you can see the patterns and colors change. Then as the bubbles float in the air, we can see colors swirling and swimming across the almost perfectly spherical surface. Why do we see these colors and why do they change? We may have seen similar patterns and colors on an oil slick on the road. How in the world could such ugly stuff as motor oil be so colorful? In this activity we'll examine this strange phenomenon and how we can experience it throughout nature. We'll also examine what thin slits do to light and how this phenomenon is similar to that of bubbles and oil slicks.

Required Materials

  • Liquid detergent or glycerine

  • A metal ring through which to blow bubbles

  • Two small glass slides

Activity Directions

  1. Use the soap and ring to blow bubbles (preferably outside -- sunlight works best). What do you notice about the colors and patterns on the surface of the bubbles?
  2. Place one glass slide on top of the other and hold the two in bright indoor light or sunlight. Do you see any colors or patterns coming from the two slides? If not, try separating the slides by a tiny amount.
  3. Are the colors and patterns from the slides similar to those on the bubbles? Think of how these two seemingly very different experiments can yield very similar phenomena.

Want to Learn More? Read an article related to this activity:

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