The answer isn’t always to burst unscientific bubbles

29th June 2018 at 00:00
Children’s imaginations can be more powerful than scientific explanations, even when the evidence is staring them in the face, finds Steve Eddison

With varying degrees of reluctance, the children get into their science discussion groups. Their first task is to come up with a possible answer to the question: what are bubbles? Each group has five minutes to agree an explanation, write it on a Post-It, and attach it to the whiteboard. Tensions among the Einsteins are such that I eventually give in and allow one of them to write her own.

Angelina refuses to budge in her belief that bubbles are tiny spaceships. Apparently, they are the only things light enough to carry wishes to the secret place where dreams are made to come true. It’s what her nan told her and all attempts to force her to adopt a more scientific explanation are met with uncompromising resistance. Her final words on the subject are: “Well, if bubbles don’t contain wishes, why have they got rainbows in them?”

As chief spokesperson for the Einsteins, Benjamin treats Angelina’s argument with the contempt he feels it deserves. Science is his favourite subject and he already knows that rainbows are caused by the refraction of light, and that bubbles are pockets of air trapped inside a thin film of soap and water. He writes this information on a pink Post-It and attaches it emphatically to the whiteboard.

Our next task is to test three different soap solutions in order to determine which produces the best bubbles. To make it a fair test, we decide the thing we will change is the solution, the thing we will keep the same is the number of blows and the thing we will measure is how long the bubbles last for.

Forever blowing bubbles

Benjamin takes charge of the chart for recording his group’s results, and appoints Charlize to operate the stopwatch and Joe to blow the bubbles. After a heated discussion (and in the interests of harmony among this scientific community), Angelina is allowed to conduct her own investigation. That way, Benjamin can’t get bossy, and pick on her and tell her what to do all the time. To avoid any obstacles and a confusion of bubbles, we carry out our tests on the playing field. Each group finds a space well away from all the others. Angelina is furthest away of all.

“Faster than light in a vacuum,” I joke, when Einsteins are the first to finish. According to Benjamin’s record chart, solution B (a proprietary brand of bubble-making solution) is the clear winner. Solutions A (shampoo with added water and glycerine) and C (shampoo with added water only) are second and third respectively. These results are soon confirmed by Faradays, Newtons, Darwins and Curies. Now we are waiting for only one person.

With everyone lined up and waiting to go back into class, Angelina is still out on the playing field. In a bubble of her own, she watches cluster after cluster of glistening spaceships carry her wishes into the air where they spin, disperse and burst into nothingness.

And while the romantic in me can’t help admiring her innocence and determination, the cynic in me keeps whispering: “In your dreams, Angelina. In your dreams.”

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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