Think Bubbly Thoughts…

Squirrel peeps: Scroll to bottom immediately, avert your eyes and think Squirrels

I’ve now written a paper with beautiful equations, I’ve given an arty-handwavy presentation to a room of Shell executives and I’ve even made a Star Wars bubble poster so geeky as to be soothing to the soul. One could say that play time is over, but, with a rapidly depleting cache of Fairy liquid in my kitchen, maybe it’s time to gather my thoughts in a more roundabout fashion than sense would dictate.

One of the most important things I’ve learnt in my degree is not, contrary to popular beliefs, the ability to distinguish a fish knife on sight with significant help, or the pages of derivations of the angle of wake behind a certain duck in a pond (this was the main selling point of the maths tripos and printed on numerous poorly-designed brochures), but rather the ability to make simple and powerful connections using tools of great complexity and more importantly, a sense of minimalism, the lazy couch principle where anything beyond the strictly necessary is, unnecessary. And with that in mind, I started my PhD in the Mechanical Engineering department at Imperial some moons ago.

Fast forward to last week, I had a thought. And, maybe, like all thoughts of a semi-profound nature, this one seemed a little different and I may have hurt myself in confusion like a Pokemon with one muffin too many. A ferocious reading session of various papers and tripos lecture notes then followed and life was put on brief hold for a few days (of which a few apologies should be doled out in the coming weeks) while I grappled with the idea that seemed quite interesting, and not just in a QI way..

Is the soap bubble a starting point for the unification of physics on a larger scale? 

We are certainly familiar with (or at least heard of) the Higgs boson particle, which is at the small end of our spectrum of life. And its discovery fuels the grand unified theory (gut) whereby the electromagnetic, strong and weak interactions are merged into one single force using the elegant language of symmetry (groups). So why can’t we do this for a larger size, i.e. at a size where we can see with the naked eye?

Of course, this isn’t easy. Similar to electromagnetic, strong and weak interactions, we now have fluidic, elastic and quantum mechanic interactions which all work in very different ways to each other. Afterall, water is different from elastic bands and even more different from quantum waves.

Or are they?

This startling hypothesis that all 3 realms of physics could in fact be simultaneously equivalent on the surface of a bubble based on videos I took in my kitchen last year on my iPhone is a bit disorientating. This is not only delicious maths but also the comprehensive proof that I am finally Brian-Coxing, i.e. doing the “give me a bowl and I’ll calculate the energy of the Sun” thing which I dislike with a vengeance usually reserved for Samsung phones with funny edges.

Borrowing the language of symmetry from particle physics, we shall impose the very real world realities of symmetry-breaking in our unification theory. This fits in perfectly with my final descent into the dark side of engineering where absolutely nothing is symmetrical and the old adage that something is “true by symmetry” is roundly ejected into the aether which also doesn’t exist anymore than using the word adage.

But what does this mean to me, as a taxpayer who complains about paying tax and wants to leave the EU?

A simple consequence of establishing equivalence between radically different theories is the possibilities of opening up a swathe of new ideas previously thought completely insane. For example, if a bubble can use the same dynamical formalism as a quantum hydrogen atom, then the energy levels in the periodic table could serve as an idea for resonant frequencies in a bubble and by extension, membranes, or more specifically, cells, where its complex viscoelasticity (that is, a combination of fluidic and elastic properties) can potentially be understood in quantum energy-level terms where each cell has a particular frequency! Imagine if we can target only bad cells by “simply” switching to a signature frequency just”it” is vulnerable to.. And yes, I’m thinking of popping those annoying bubbles on demand by the “bubbleman” in front of the science museum through a series of carefully designed agitations of air particles near the bubble..

A nice theoretical implication would be to potentially use viscoelastic theories in particle physics where the universe “can be” (but advised otherwise) thought of as a giant bubble (They actually mentioned this in The Big Bang Theory!) and interactions between galaxies or universes “could be” studied using bubble coalescence methods. The primordial nucleosynthesis “would” then reduce to foaming experiments using a £1 Asda stirrer and we could explain different gaps in various places with bits from the other theory that it is equivalent to. Or as a chinese proverb would eloquently say (and badly translated by me) that a wise man can be found in any group of 3 people..

Now, before we get massively ahead of ourselves… SQUIRREL!!

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(Calmly) Are you nuts?! – 1050mm f/9 1/125s
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I’m in a tree.. of dreams!
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What would that guy pointing a massive lens at me think when I jump?
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