The fleeting nature of soap bubbles: a long standing mystery

Lorène Champougny is fascinated by the complex scientific questions contained within objects as familiar as soap bubbles: What governs the thickness of soap film? What can be done to affect its stability? Taking a multidisciplinary approach, Champougny seeks to understand the relationship between soap films and the physiochemical properties of the molecules that stabilise them – “a very difficult research problem”, says Dominique Langevin, director of research at the Solid-state Physics Laboratory. The ambition and determination of this young scientist couldn’t be clearer. Let’s find out more!

What are the short- and long-term goals of your research for science and society and their potential applications?

In the short term, my research should develop a better understanding of the relationship between the physiochemical properties of soap molecules and the stability of soap films, enabling us to predict when the film will burst. In the longer term, my work can have implications for the manufacturing of porous materials with a controlled structure – such as insulation foam and cell culture matrices – through the solidification of a liquid foam.

What do you particularly enjoy about your work?

I love the creative aspect of what I do, the never-ending search for new solutions to new problems. Creativity, combined with a scientific approach and rigour, is an essential quality for a researcher. It’s what enables you to explore unchartered territories and devise new instruments, methods and concepts.

I find the whole concept of exploring the unknown highly stimulating. I also really enjoy the collaborative side of research – most often it’s through conversations with my colleagues that we make progress.

Do you have a dream for science?

I care a lot about sustainable development and environmental issues. I hope that one day science will be able to bridge the gap between satisfying humanity’s expanding needs – especially in terms of energy and materials – and protecting the environment. In more general terms, I dream of a time when all scientific progress is inseparable from broader considerations concerning its environmental and human impact.

How did you develop an interest in science?

I come from a family of scientists and have always been more or less immersed in science. I think that I developed an interest in physics mostly from reading science-fiction novels. Initially, my physics studies were mainly theoretical, until the day when a professor lectured on classic historical experiments, such the Cavendish experiment to measure the universal gravitational constant. I later became taken with the elegance of these experiments, which led me to shift my career focus toward experimental physics.

Lorène Champougny received a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship in 2014.

For Women in Science

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