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The physics behind the fizz

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2012

Gorgeous floral arrangements can really brighten up a party – particularly when they’re blooming in champagne flutes.


In a process invisible to the naked eye, champagne bubbles take on a flowerlike structure around bubbles collapsing on the surface of the liquid poured into a glass. © Gérard Liger-Belair.


These aren’t real flowers, of course; they’re tiny structures created by the champagne bubbles as they rise from the glasses. And only high-speed, close-up snapshots reveal their floral appearance.

A recent paper delves into “the physics behind the fizz” to explain the role that carbon dioxide plays in champagne in its brief but lively existence from bottle to glass. In the paper, Gérard Liger-Belair at the University of Reims in France focused on the fermentation process. The bubbles originate through a process called nucleation, which is triggered by tiny impurities in the glass or by intentional etching inside champagne flutes, Liger-Belair said.


Bubble nucleation, or formation, sites are shown on the wall of a glass filled with champagne. ©Alain Cornu.


His research included a visual study, aided by a classic Minolta video camera fitted with bellows, a microscope objective and a high-speed flash, filming at rates of 1000 and 3000 fps, to freeze the short-lived bubbles in time.

The work was published online in the European Physical Journal Special Topics. Such visual analysis of the dynamics involved could lead to further enhancements in champagne production, which has remained much the same since its development in the late 17th century.


Champagne scientist and photographer Gérard Liger-Belair uses a high-speed video camera to reveal the microscale dynamics of champagne bubble nucleation. ©Hubert Raguet.


Liger-Belair said he is particularly attracted by the visually appealing – but, unfortunately, invisible to the naked eye – phenomena happening right under our noses when we taste champagne.

“From my point of view, the most important findings are the collapsing-driven-bubble phenomena,” he said. “Bursting bubbles project high-speed champagne droplets above the liquid surface, which carry aromas.”


This projection of a tiny champagne jet is shown after the collapse of a bubble at the champagne surface. The height of the jet is only 1 mm. The photographer said that this stage in the bubble’s existence is one of the most technically difficult to capture on camera. © Gérard Liger-Belair.


There also is a fantastic “zoology” revealed by the high-speed imaging – the tiny flower-shaped structures formed by bubbles near a collapsing one, he added.


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