High-speed Imaging Shows How Bursting Bubbles Launch Bacteria From Water To Air

Posted: Nov 17 2018, 2:05am CST | by , Updated: Nov 17 2018, 2:12am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
High-speed Imaging Shows How Bursting Bubbles Launch Bacteria from Water to Air
Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Researchers have found that contaminated bubbles remained on water surface longer than uncontaminated bubbles.

Everyday we witness bubbles floating at water surface. These bubbles look delicate and harmless but they can be a means of spreading bacteria in the air.

New high-speed videos captured by MIT researchers show how bubbles contaminated with bacteria can act as tiny grenade. As bubbles burst, they launch microorganisms including potential pathogens, out of the water and into the air.

Researchers have found that the behavior of bubbles is more complicated than might be expected from such a simple event. Bacteria can affect a bubble's longevity and new study shows that a bacteria-covered bubble can last more than 10 times longer than an uncontaminated one. When a bubble persists for minutes instead of seconds, its cap thins and shoots more microorganisms upward. Researchers estimate that a bubble can sent up to thousands of microorganisms into the air, which can then be inhaled by people and result in diseases.

“We discovered bacteria can manipulate interfaces in a manner that can enhance their own water-to-air dispersal.” Lydia Bourouiba from Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory said.

In order to better understand how bacteria affects a bubble, researchers set up an experiment in which they filled a column with a solution of water and various bacteria species, including E. coli. Then they generated bubbles with a specially designed air pump that can also control the volume and size of each bubble. Researchers captured the behavior of each bubble with high speed imaging and studied it. They found that the contaminated bubbles remained on the surface much longer than uncontaminated bubbles and thinned dramatically after a certain time period. .

When researchers looked for an explanation for the drastic change in bubble’s behavior, they found that bubbles containing bacteria's secretions reduce a bubble's surface tension and make it more elastic.

"Bacteria are alive, and like anything alive, they make waste, and that waste typically is something that potentially could interact with the bubble's interface," said Bourouiba. "So we separated the organisms from their 'juice.'"

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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