Wherever there’s water, there’s bound to be bubbles floating at the surface. From standing puddles, lakes, and streams, to swimming pools, hot tubs, public fountains, and toilets, bubbles are ubiquitous, indoors and out.
A new MIT study shows how bubbles contaminated with bacteria can act as tiny microbial grenades, bursting and launching microorganisms, including potential pathogens, out of the water and into the air.
In the study, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the researchers found that bacteria can affect a bubble’s longevity: A bacteria-covered bubble floating at the water’s surface can last more than 10 times longer than an uncontaminated one can, persisting for minutes instead of seconds. During this time, the cap of the contaminated bubble thins. The thinner the bubble, the higher the number of droplets it can launch into the air when the bubble inevitably bursts. A single droplet, the researchers estimate, can carry up to thousands of microorganisms, and each bubble can emit hundreds of droplets.