Here's a prime example of better living through physics: A recently published study lays out the best strategy for getting the most bubbles from your bubbly. The research paper, titled "Champagne Experiences Various Rhythmical Bubbling Regimes in a Flute," goes into depth about the factors that make the difference between orderly and irregular streams of bubbles running up the sides of your champagne flute.
The University of Reims' Gerard Liger-Belair, the lead author of the paper appearing in Wednesday's issue of the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, is no stranger to the physics of fizz: In 2003, for example, he published a paper explaining why smaller bubbles make sparkling wine tastier.
This time around, he and his colleagues took an up-close look at how champagne bubbles are created. The research team confirmed that most of the bubbles begin with minute cylindrical cellulose fibers deposited on the glasses by air currents, or by towel-drying. That brings us to the advice on strategy:
- If you want bubblier champagne, wipe the inside of the glasses vigorously with a towel before pouring.
- If you want to tone down the bubbles, wash your glasses, then let them air-dry upside down on a rack, without using a towel.
|Trains of bubbles rise
on a champagne flute.
Minute scratches on the glass also promote bubble nucleation - with the implication that wine may be bubblier in older glasses than in newer ones. In fact, some glassmakers intentionally make microscratches in their champagne flutes to create bubbly special effects.
The focus of this most recent research has to do with why some "bubble trains" in champagne move gracefully, with bubbles popping up at regular intervals, while other bubble trains stream less evenly.
The researchers' microscopic examination found that it had to do with precisely how the carbon dioxide is trapped within those tiny fibers, and how the gas bubbles interact with each other. Variations in the properties of the fibers - such as size, irregularities in the fiber's inner wall and the diameter of the fiber's "sleeve" - can introduce instability in the bubble trains, they said.
Liger-Belair works right in France's Champagne region - in fact, Champagne Möet & Chandon and Pommery supplied the wines for the experiments. The research was also supported by ARC International, a French company that makes glassware for wines.
But the researchers said the implications of their findings weren't limited to champagne - or even to other carbonated drinks, where similar bubble behavior was observed:
"Bubbling instabilities are observed in a huge quantity of everyday situations, from the food industry (effervescence and foaming) to biological systems (embolism in plants). Even human beings may be concerned by the formation of bubbles. Actually, nitrogen bubbles may arise and grow in the bloodstream of divers who have breathed high-pressure air if they resurface too quickly. These observations conducted in a simple flute poured with champagne may therefore extend to the more general field of heterogeneous bubble nucleation and could eventually contribute to the unlocking of some of the mysteries hidden behind bubble formation from gas cavities."
Sounds like this kind of research could be a perfect candidate for a future Ig Nobel award. This year's Ig Nobels were announced just tonight, and the not-quite-serious annual prizes recognize scientific achievements "that first make people laugh, and then make them think."
As Ig Nobel impresario Marc Abrahams says, "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize tonight - and especially if you did - better luck next year."