Researchers at Brown University and University of Toulouse in France just uncovered an explanation for why Champagne bubbles rise in such a distinct way, according to a Brown press release. The researchers’ findings were published in a study in the academic journal Physical Review Fluids on May 3.
For context, while carbonated bubbles in beer or soda often move to the side and rise in groups, Champagne bubbles rise in a single-file vertical line when poured into a flute. This known anomaly led researchers to look into why this happens. The answer? Physics.
“This is the type of research that I’ve been working out for years,” one of the study’s senior authors, Roberto Zenit, says in the release. “Most people have never seen an ocean seep or an aeration tank but most of them have had a soda, a beer, or a glass of Champagne. By talking about Champagne and beer, our master plan is to make people understand that fluid mechanics is important in their daily lives.”
The research focused on describing the stability of “bubble chains” in carbonated drinks such as sparkling wine, seltzer, beer, and soda. The group theorized that ingredients in Champagne act as “surfactants,” which are compounds similar to soap bubbles. These protein compounds facilitate the bubbles’ smooth ride to the surface.
“The theory is that in Champagne, these contaminants that act as surfactants are the good stuff,” Zenit says. “These protein molecules that give flavor and uniqueness to the liquid are what makes the bubbles chains they produce stable.”
While surfactants are also found in some styles of beer, it’s often unpredictable whether they’ll react the same way. Less-stable bubbles in seltzer and soda — which encounter more resistance without surfactants — float to the top in an uneven, cone-shaped manner.
The study authors intend to apply the findings to more industrial purposes, like use in water processing plants. It could also better explain natural processes, like when methane or carbon dioxide is released from the ocean floor.