July 16, 2010 Issue

Physics To Go 101 - Soap film structures

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Physics in Your World

Tensile Structure image
Image Credit: Denver International Airport; Image source; larger image

Tensile Structure

The roof of the Denver International Airport terminal (above) is a tensioned fabric structure designed by Horst Berger, a civil engineer famous for his large-scale fabric projects. This roof employs double-curved "minimal surfaces" that are characteristic of soap films (see From Physics Research).

- Visit Tensile Structure to learn more about this kind of construction.
- See this article from Structure magazine for information about Berger's career and numerous photos of his work.

(This feature was updated on March 25, 2012.)

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Physics at Home

Soap Bubbles

Playing with soap bubbles can be fun and educational for people of all ages.

- Try this PBS activity to see what kind of soap films you can make inside of a geometrical wire frame.  
- Also see this album for photos of big bubbles.


From Physics Research

From Soap Bubbles to Technology  image
Image credit: soapbubble.DK; image source; additional image

From Soap Bubbles to Technology

The soap film you see here, made in between two metal rings, is called a catenoid, and it uses the minimum area to enclose a given volume. Click on the image to see another example of a "minimal surface" soap film.

- Minimizing area can reduce construction costs--see this catenoid-shaped cooling tower, from this Wikipedia page.
- To learn more, visit From Soap Bubbles to Technology.

Worth a Look


Visit the colorful and well-illustrated soapbubbledk to learn about soap bubbles and films.

- You'll find out why bubbles don't grow bigger and bigger, how bubbles can float, and how to attract a soapbubble with a balloon.
- Photos show the interesting soap films you can make on a wire frame, or even inside a bubble.

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