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Axisymmetric Soap-Bubbles

Consider an axisymmetric soap-bubble whose surface takes the form in cylindrical coordinates. (See Section C.3.) The unit normal to the surface is

 (3.55)

where . Hence, from Equation (C.39), the mean curvature of the surface is given by

 (3.56)

The Young-Laplace equation, (3.12), then yields

 (3.57)

where

 (3.58)

Here, is the net surface tension, including the contributions from the internal and external soap/air interfaces. Moreover, is the pressure difference between the interior and the exterior of the bubble. Equation (3.57) can be integrated to give

 (3.59)

where is a constant.

Suppose that the bubble occupies the region , where , and has a fixed radius at its two end-points, and . This could most easily be achieved by supporting the bubble on two rigid parallel co-axial rings located at and . The net free energy required to create the bubble can be written

 (3.60)

where is area of the bubble surface, and the enclosed volume. The first term on the right-hand side of the previous expression represents the work needed to overcome surface tension, whereas the second term represents the work required to overcome the pressure difference, , between the exterior and the interior of the bubble. From the general principles of statics, we expect a stable equilibrium state of a mechanical system to be such as to minimize the net free energy, subject to any dynamical constraints (Fitzpatrick 2012). It follows that the equilibrium shape of the bubble is such as to minimize

 (3.61)

subject to the constraint that the bubble radius, , be fixed at and . Hence, we need to find the function that minimizes the integral

 (3.62)

where

 (3.63)

subject to the constraint that is fixed at the limits. This is a standard problem in the calculus of variations. (See Appendix E.) In fact, because the functional does not depend explicitly on , the minimizing function is the solution of [see Equation (E.14)]

 (3.64)

where is an arbitrary constant. Thus, we obtain

 (3.65)

which can be rearranged to give Equation (3.59). Hence, we conclude that application of the Young-Laplace equation does indeed lead to a bubble shape that minimizes the net free energy of the soap/air interfaces.

Consider the case , in which there is no pressure difference across the surface of the bubble. In this situation, writing , Equation (3.59) reduces to

 (3.66)

Moreover, according to the previous discussion, the bubble shape specified by Equation (3.66) is such as to minimize the surface area of the bubble (because the only contribution to the free energy of the soap/air interfaces is directly proportional to the bubble area). The previous equation can be rearranged to give

 (3.67)

 (3.68)

or

 (3.69)

where is a constant. This expression describes an axisymmetric surface known as a catenoid.

Suppose, for instance, that the soap bubble is supported by identical rings of radius that are located a perpendicular distance apart. Without loss of generality, we can specify that the rings lie at . It follows, from Equation (3.69), that , and

 (3.70)

Here, the parameter must be chosen so as to satisfy

 (3.71)

For example, if then , and the resulting bubble shape is illustrated in Figure 3.7.

Let and , in which case the previous equation becomes

 (3.72)

Now, the function attains a maximum value

 (3.73)

when . Moreover, if then Equation (3.72) possesses two roots. It turns out that the root associated with the smaller value of minimizes the interface system energy, whereas the other root maximizes the free energy. Hence, the former root corresponds to a stable equilibrium state, whereas the latter corresponds to an unstable equilibrium state. On the other hand, if then Equation (3.72) possesses no roots, implying the absence of any equilibrium state. The critical case corresponds to and , where and . It is easily demonstrated that and . We conclude that a stable equilibrium state of a catenoid bubble only exists when , which corresponds to . If the relative ring spacing exceeds the critical value then the bubble presumably bursts.

Consider the case , in which there is a pressure difference across the surface of the bubble. In this situation, writing

 (3.74) (3.75)

Equation (3.59) becomes

 (3.76)

which can be rearranged to give

 (3.77)

We can assume, without loss of generality, that . It follows, from the previous expression, that . Hence, we can write

 (3.78) (3.79)

where and . It follows that

 (3.80) (3.81)

and

 (3.82)

which can be integrated to give

 (3.83)

where and are incomplete elliptic integrals [see Equations (3.40) and (3.41)]. Here, we have assumed that when . There are three cases of interest.

In the first case, and . It follows that for , and for , where

 (3.84) (3.85)

The axisymmetric curve parameterized by the previous pair of equations is known as an unduloid. Note that an unduloid bubble always has positive internal pressure (relative to the external pressure): that is, . An example unduloid soap bubble is illustrated in Figure 3.8

In the second case, and . It follows that for , and for , where , and

 (3.86) (3.87)

The axisymmetric curve parameterized by the previous pair of equations is known as an nodoid. This particular type of nodoid bubble has positive internal pressure: that is, . An example positive pressure nodoid soap bubble is illustrated in Figure 3.9.

In the third case, and . It follows that for (or ), and for , where

 (3.88) (3.89)

The axisymmetric curve parameterized by the previous pair of equations is again a nodoid. However, this particular type of nodoid bubble has negative internal pressure: that is, . An example negative pressure nodoid soap bubble is illustrated in Figure 3.10.

Next: Exercises Up: Surface Tension Previous: Capillary Curves
Richard Fitzpatrick 2016-03-31