Mind-Blowing Bubbles

by Katherine Noll, photos by Patricia Canavan
April 03, 2014

Imagine sitting on a grassy field during a sunny day, with a container of bubble solution in your hand. You raise the wand to your lip and a stream of Dr. Frank Morgan and Jeannie Galick, associate professor of mathematicsround, glistening bubbles dance through the air. Now imagine instead of bubbles, you create lighter cars and airplanes, mattresses, sneakers that are more durable yet weigh less, baked goods, a substance which can extinguish fire, or acoustic foam for soundproofing. These are just a few of the many ways the mathematics behind basic soap bubbles is applied in real life.

Dr. Frank Morgan, Atwell Professor of Mathematics at Williams College in Massachusetts, brought his fascinating and fun program "Soap Bubbles and Mathematics" to Northampton Community College on April 3. Born and raised in Allentown, Morgan is a graduate of William Allen High School. He earned a bachelor's degree at MIT and a master's degree and Ph.D. from Princeton University. He also received an honorary doctorate from Cedar Crest College. He has won numerous awards and is the author of several math books.

The Student Life Zone was at standing room only as students, faculty, and staff learned that an average, ordinary soap bubble in reality is an important and complicated creation. Morgan delved into double bubbles (when two bubbles share a common wall), why bubbles are round, bubbles inside bubbles, surface areas, and more complex theories.

"Anything you ever learn about mathematics can make you very valuable wherever you go in the future," Morgan told students. He shared that amongst his most recent undergraduate students, several chose fields outside of mathematics, including a lawyer and one who works in the entertainment industry for CBS Television. "Whatever math you learn will pay off."

Morgan hosted a lively bubble trivia contest. The runner-ups received jars of bubble solution and "pi" plates. Student Sabrina, a math major, won the grand prize, an autographed copy of Morgan's book, The Math Chat Book.

"Math can be interesting and fun," he closed with. "It's never too late or too early to start enjoying mathematics!"

No word if all the leftover bubble solution from Morgan's talk will be used in the witches' cauldron for the upcoming NCC theatre production of Macbeth.

Dr. Frank Morgan




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