The Physics of Beer

It’s a common pub prank to tap the top of a friend’s beer, to make it suddenly erupt in froth. Funny to some people, annoying to others; but to Spanish physicist Javier Rodríguez-Rodríguez, intriguing.

Rodríguez-Rodríguez, from the University Carlos III of Madrid, decided to investigate the strange phenomenon, and in the process has discovered a host of complex physics in a glass of beer, which could help scientists understand all kinds of processes, from volcanic eruptions to the formation of asteroids.

“There are many different physical phenomena going on in a beer glass, and every time you drink a beer, all this physics is right before your eyes,” Rodríguez-Rodríguez says.

His thirst for knowledge has even led him to convince his PhD students to drop beer off a 100-metre high tower to study bubble formation in the micro-gravity environment of free-fall.

“Carbonated beverages are portable laboratories that can be used to demonstrate in an amusing way the working of many flows also found in nature and industry,” he and co-author Robert Zenit write in a review of the beer facts they have discovered, published in the magazine Physics Today.

The key to many of the processes in beer is that it is carbonated – a colloquial term for it being a super-saturated carbon dioxide solution. As the beer brews, fermentation by yeast emits micro-farts of carbon dioxide, building up pressure in the bottle.

Some of the carbon dioxide gas dissolves into the beer: the fraction is determined by Henry’s law, which holds that the higher the pressure, the more gas is dissolved.

When the bottle is opened, the pressure is released, meaning that amount of gas the liquid can hold is lower: suddenly the solution is super-saturated. But it takes a while for the solution to catch up. Over a few hours the carbon dioxide seeps out until it reaches its new equilibrium point, termed by beer lovers as “flat”.

The rate at which the gas departs, and the dynamics it sets off, forms the basis for much of beer’s intriguing behaviour – such as in the beer-tapping prank.

Rodríguez-Rodríguez’s study of it was first published in the journal Physical Review Letters and revealed that the trigger for the beer volcano is a pressure wave sweeping upward through the liquid.

The sudden jolt leaves the beer behind momentarily. At the sides of the bottle, the effect is minimal as the glass slides past the beer.

However, the downward shift of the base of the bottle has much greater ramifications, and creates a sudden drop in pressure in the liquid at the bottom. This low-pressure region propagates upward, triggering the dissolved carbon dioxide in the beer to suddenly form bubbles.

The beer then catches up with the bottle and the pressure rebounds. This sudden high pressure fragments the bubbles that have only just formed. Rodríguez-Rodríguez found each one breaks into as many as a million smaller bubbles.

These, now in a cloud formation, begin to rise, growing as they suck in more carbon dioxide. It takes a second or two before they reach the top and froth up.

The rise of the cloud is due to the buoyancy of the bubbles, which set Rodríguez-Rodríguez and his team thinking about what would happen in zero gravity.

Rather than sending beer into space, they decided to drop some off the 100-metre high drop tower of the Centre of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) in Bremen, Germany.

For the actual experiment they had to find a substitute liquid. “We cannot use beer,” says Rodríguez-Rodríguez. “It’s too dirty.”

Using carbonated water, the team could observe the evolution of the bubble cloud as it hovered within the liquid, capturing high-speed video of the process.

As well as being of relevance to the formation of bodies such as asteroids and meteorites in low gravity environments, Rodríguez-Rodríguez’s research addresses the potentially important issue of astronauts drinking beer.

The buoyancy of the bubbles is what enables the gas from the carbonated drink to rise from the stomach and be expelled, but Rodríguez-Rodríguez points out that in zero gravity, they would not be buoyant.

“The bubbles would not be able to escape the liquid within the digestive system, leading to painful bloating in the stomach and intestines. So, sorry, no bubbly drinks for space people!” he and Zenit write in their review article.

Rodríguez-Rodríguez admits to enjoying drinking his experimental apparatus sometimes, but is careful to point out he is not doing so with government research funds. He says the guidelines for research preclude expenditure on alcohol, so he buys all beer for experiments from his own money.

“I consider it the Rodríguez-Rodríguez Foundation for the Advancement of Science,” he adds.

Results from the microgravity experiments are in preparation, and will be submitted to a journal soon.

Original published 29/5/19 https://cosmosmagazine.com/physics/in-lager-veritas-the-physics-of-beer

Continue Reading The Physics of Beer

The hard questions

The easy part’s the answer

The resolution to the cadence, the final pose of the dancer

The hard work’s dynamic tension

build the elegant clash, the clarity in a question

 

World shaking shift of continental drift

Earthquaking violence from a pace so placid

The twist in dioxy-ribonucleic acid

 

Einstein astride a soaring light beam

Nothing’s as absolute as it seemed

The revelation comes at the speed of light

A universe of relative wrongs and rights

No more can you trust the rules you revere

Time stops, space shrinks as it all becomes clear.

 

by Phil Dooley, written for The Poet’s Guide to Science play.

First performed at Smiths Alternative in Canberra, August 24, 2018, as part of National Science Week.

Continue Reading The hard questions

Adelaide Fringe shows!

Excited to be in Adelaide in 2019 for my first Fringe!  Doing seven shows in six days, all at the Rob Roy Hotel, 106 Halifax St South Adelaide.

Fiona Panther cropped.jpg

Tuesday 12th March: Physics in the Pub  (booked out)

 

 

dooleyposter ADL-smaller.jpg

Wednesday 13 March – Solo Show

The Most Amazing Planet in the Universe – an Astronomer’s Ode to Earth

 

 

Instaposter-sq.jpg

 

Thursday 14th March – Sunday 17th March

The Poet’s Guide to Science – a hilarious play of modern dilemmas, featuring working scientists

Continue Reading Adelaide Fringe shows!

The Most Amazing Planet – Dr Phil on Tour

Tickets on sale now for shows in Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe.  Melbourne earlybird tickets on sale until the Friday 11 January – snap them up!

dooleyposterThe Most Amazing Planet in the Universe

An Astronomers Ode to Earth

We like to think we are special and we live on the only planet. But astronomers have recently discovered thousands of weird and wonderful planets orbiting other stars – there may be billions more.

But Earth is still the most amazing planet – the reasons why will surprise you.

If an alien were to visit, they would be astounded. Earth is shrouded in a corrosive and unstable gas, oxygen. Water regularly falls from the sky in liquid and even solid form (rocks falling from the sky?!).

And there are bizarre organisms covering the land that are green: logically, plants should be purple!

Dr Phil’s songs and stories will take you on a trip around the cosmos and reveal the surprising things that make our world special.

An uplifting show that will thrill you, entertain you and wow you.

Dr Phil is a physicist, entertainer, pianist and singer. He’s performed shows in Science shows and festivals around the world including Glasgow, Sydney, and London. By day he’s a science writer for Cosmos Magazine, New Scientist, Australian Geographic and more, and was selected for the 2018 Anthology of Best Australian Science Writing.

Catch the show in

Canberra: 29 January 2019, Smiths Alternative

Melbourne: 4 – 9 February 2019, The Butterfly Club

Adelaide Fringe: 13 March 2019, Rob Roy Hotel

Continue Reading The Most Amazing Planet – Dr Phil on Tour

End of content

No more pages to load