Watching Frozen Bubbles, Making Frozen Bubbles.

We’ve had some pretty brutal temperatures in the Northeast this winter. But we’re not the only ones shivering.  I have family members all over the U.S. who have reported some pretty miserable temps themselves. It’s all relative. When my sister in Georgia sees 30 degrees on her thermometer, she shivers like I do when I see 10 on mine. But this week, when we hit the negatives, it just got plain ridiculous.

The thermometer in my mud room

What are you supposed to do when the temperatures outside are not fit for man nor beast? You play, that’s what you do! The brave folks up on Mount Washington, one of the most brutal places to be in the middle of a record setting New England winter, decided to keep their shivering fingers busy by seeing if bubbles would freeze.

Sure enough, in an experiment that runs in the opposite direction of the  ‘fry an egg on the sidewalk’  thing, they got some pretty cool footage of some simple bubbles, freezing before they hit the ground. Imagine if you caught a bubble in your hand and it shattered, instead of popped. Pretty cool.

Watch this video and be thankful you’re sitting in your warm house, drinking your warm coffee. The Mount Washington crew did what they could to make the best of a bitter situation. I applaud their effort.

Now as a bonus, I’ve discovered some pretty interesting information from my fellow GeekMom writer, JennT. She’s a science museum professional (Chaos Coordinator is her official title) and she’s actually frozen bubbles “‘in the line of duty.” She swears we can do this in our own homes. And you don’t need negative temps to achieve decent results. Here’s some of the advice she shared with me.

We always use the super bubble mix from the Exploratorium but that’s because it worked, and once we found one that worked we quit looking. There are likely others. We did discover that the glycerin for frozen bubbles is important and finicky; too much they won’t freeze, too little they won’t freeze. You can also freeze various particulates in like glitter and salt but that’s really hard. (We had to use Liquid Nitrogen to achieve that one…it’s -320 F.)

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup ultra Ivory Blue (Yes, the brand makes a difference, but that can be an experiment for them. Regular Joy works too, although not Ultra.)

12 cups water

3/4 tablespoon glycerin

Now here comes the good part for those of you who never see a thermometer like the one pictured above. You can have fun with this experiment with just ‘regular’ cold weather.

I live in Oklahoma so we don’t get extremely cold, or if we do, we don’t stay there long. We’ve thus far discovered that it can be no warmer than 28 degrees F outside. And even then it’s tough. The best bubbles we got came from a day when it was 18 outside. As with most frozen science, the colder the better.  Our resident chemist supposes that there is a such a thing as too cold (ie the solution freezes and loses all elasticity before you can make the bubble) but she thinks that wouldn’t be till 50-60 BELOW zero F. Although, for the record, that is a supposition and not tested or known fact. And really if that at that point your only thought is to freeze bubbles, you need help.

In the 29 degree weather we needed a shady, sheltered area, and our tallest experimenter had to blow to keep them as far from the ground as possible. They would normally thaw before hitting the ground (radiant heat from the concrete we were working on). The day it was 18 we could play catch (if we were gentle) but by the fourth or fifth touch the warmth from our hands (even with gloves) would imbalance the temperature too much. Wind is a factor. And bubble machines wouldn’t work even at 18. We think the motion and heat from the motor messed it up.

And one more fun fact from our resident bubble expert, JennT…

Even if you can’t make frozen bubbles, you can capture your frozen breath in them and watch it swirl around.  Go blow bubbles any day you see your breath and blow using a “Ha” or a wide “O” formation of your mouth instead of an “Ooh” (like a whistle) like you normally use. It take a bit of practice but you can get it.

So by now you should be once again excited that it’s still winter. There’s still plenty of time left to make some amazing frozen bubbles of your own. And if you do, be sure to add pictures of them to our GeekMom Flicker Pool so we can all enjoy them with you!

Get the GeekDad Books!