Q:

I was boiling water in chem lab the other day and I was watching the bubbles rise (they kind of spiral around as they rise). Is there some way to calculate the path of the bubbles or is it random? What does it depend on?

- Cynthia (age 17)

Champaign, IL

- Cynthia (age 17)

Champaign, IL

A:

Cynthia,

I think it is possible to calculate the motion of the bubbles in an average sense, but not in detail. For example, we know the bubbles rise, which we can calculate from very elementary gravity considerations. At the slightly more detailed level we know that the bubbles may be swirled around by any convection currents present, which can also be understood with a bit more work. However, to really understand the *exact* path of each bubble is an impossible problem to solve since these will be chaotic (just like it is impossible to perfectly predict the weather).

It all depends on how much detail you want. MS

I think it is possible to calculate the motion of the bubbles in an average sense, but not in detail. For example, we know the bubbles rise, which we can calculate from very elementary gravity considerations. At the slightly more detailed level we know that the bubbles may be swirled around by any convection currents present, which can also be understood with a bit more work. However, to really understand the *exact* path of each bubble is an impossible problem to solve since these will be chaotic (just like it is impossible to perfectly predict the weather).

It all depends on how much detail you want. MS

*(published on 10/22/2007)*