May 04, 2001

bubbles, wind, and trees

I was thinking of writing more about soap bubbles, and realized there was nothing I could think of to say about them that wasn’t trite. Yes, they’re pretty and fragile; yes, they reflect rainbows; yes, they combine together, yes, they hover in the air. On further thought, though, they don’t really hover. Try blowing them indoors (like in your office!) and you’ll see that they sink fairly quickly. I usually think of them as floating indefinitely because I’m used to blowing them outside, and there’s almost always at least a bit of a breeze to hold them up longer – they’re so light that even a whisper will do it. Soap bubbles depend on the wind for support.

That made me think of trees. Down near Tucson is Biosphere 2; it used to show up in the news a lot, a few years ago when there were people sealed inside. There are no permanent residents now, but there are still several complete ecosystems, including even a small “ocean” contain in what is essentially a very large terrarium. It’s interesting to tour around the outside; there are also exhibits and some greenhouses and other experiments. There was one factor Biosphere 2’s designers forgot to plan for – there is no wind inside that glass bubble. The trees and other large plants in there grew without any horizontal stresses to resist. With nothing to resist, there were fewer constraints on their growth.

As a result, they are very odd-looking; tall and spindly, thinner than usual, with limbs sticking out and curving in every direction. Designers there have had to figure out a way to create an artificial wind, to foster normal growing conditions for the enclosed plants.

I’m fairly sure there’s a moral here, and an application to humans, but I’m not entirely sure what it is. Maybe we just all need something to resist, in order to grow and move as we’d like to?

Posted by dichroic at May 4, 2001 11:31 AM
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