A UH researcher's bubbly breakthrough could be a boon for businesses

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Yi Zuo is in the science of bubbles.

Specifically, the University of Hawaii professor and his team at the College of Engineering are developing ways to make bubbles last longer.

That could mean lingering suds in your bath, longer-lasting foam in your beer and and even improvements in the medical field.

"I was always curious about soap bubbles when I was a child," Zuo said.

The problem with bubbles? They tend not to last long. They fizzle out, pop or merge.

This ultimately affects the product's quality and texture.

And improving the longevity of bubbles could be big business.

In 2013, the National Science Foundation granted Zuo $400,000 to aid in his research of bubbles.

Since then, he's developed a way that will help these air pockets last longer.

"Basically, we developed a new method that allows researchers to quantitatively determine the 'hardness' of a bubble or a droplet or a surface," Zuo said.

Until now, there was no way to really measure the "hardness" of a bubble, according to Zuo.

Scientists couldn't determine things like surface area of a droplet in real-time. Thus, they couldn't control factors that could help a droplet or bubble last longer.

But Zuo and his team are changing that. It's called a novel arbitrary waveform generator — or AWG.

The AWG works something like an air conditioning unit. An AC works to get a room's air to a target temperature, turning on when it's too hot and turning off when it's just right.

Zuo used the same principle to control the surface area of a droplet.

Zuo will set a target surface area for the bubble, and then the AWG will get to work, injecting the droplet with liquid if the surface area is too low or taking liquid out if it's too high.

Then, Zuo said, "using knowledge learned from the AWG, we can chemically modify the surface of a bubble to make it last longer."

Zuo's research can even go beyond common droplets and bubbles found in food.

It can also affect cosmetics, oil products, wet cement and foam insulation. In fact, Zuo's $400,000 grant was given to him in hopes of advancing techniques to study the surface of lungs.

Premature babies are born without vital lung surfactant, which is needed to breath, Zuo said. Neonatologists give the babies surfactant extracted from animals' lungs instead.

"Our AWG method can be used to study the 'hardness' or the lung surfactant film," Zuo said. "This information can help increase the clinical performance of the surfactant and may lead to new formula of the surfactant drug with a higher efficacy."

So while longer lasting suds and foamy coffee may be what come to mind when you think of a bubble researcher, Zuo and his team's work has greater implications.

"Our research on droplets and bubbles is fundamentally important for natural science and is directly related to the welfare of general public," Zuo said.

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