January 23, 2007
The mathematics involved in the foamy head of a glass of beer is helping scientists and engineers better understand the properties of metal.
“If you look closely, there is some beautiful, beautiful physics and some beautiful mathematics involved,” said Dr. David Srolovitz, a physicist at Yeshiva University in New York City, whose work is relevant to both engineers and brew masters.
A recent episode of the syndicated TV series Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science (DBIS) touches on how bubbles in a glass of beer are similar to the grain-like structures that give metals their form.
“If we envision each of these grains just like a bubble, the way each grain grows or shrinks is exactly the same theory. By changing grain size, you can make a material stronger or weaker,” Dr. Srolovitz said.
The math involved in these bubbles is important to brewers because by controlling the surface tension properties of the bubbles, they can figure out how to make more bubbles, which in turn gives them more control over the amount of head their beer produces.
For engineers, knowing the properties of the grains that comprise the metals they use gives them a certain amount of control over manipulating the size, shape, and strength of metal parts.
"Mathematics of Beer Bubbles" is just one of a wide range of mathematical, scientific, and technological topics covered in the DBIS series. The American Institute of Physics produces these science news programs, with the MAA as a contributing partner. The NSF-funded DBIS project delivers twelve 90-second segments each month for showing on local TV stations across the country.