London, April 10 : French scientists have made a significant progress in creating a tempest in a teapot-sized vessel using a soapy solution.
Hamid Kellay, a physicist at the University of Bordeaux who led the study, says that his experiment may open the door to a little laboratory for understanding how large hurricanes interact with the turbulent air around them.
His team filled with a beaker with a soapy solution, and created a bubble in it with the help of a straw. The researchers then heated to around 45 degree Celsius as the hemispherical bubble rested on top of it.
Thermal plumes begin to form on the bubble's sides as the solution warms. Sometimes a large vortex, several centimetres in diameter, forms at the top.
"We thought they looked exactly like cyclones," Nature magazine quoted Kellay as saying.
Thereafter, the researchers used a digital camera to record the motion of the little twisters, and compared it with real-world data from the 2003-2004 hurricane season.
They noted that there was the random, thermal motion of the little tempest was very similar to that of big hurricanes. However, their tracks were otherwise different.
Kellay agrees that this similarity is probably limited, for real-world hurricanes are created by different atmospheric processes, and their motion is heavily affected by Earth's rotation, but that of his bubbles is not.
He, however, still insists that studies on the bubble may help discern how large hurricanes interact with the turbulent air around them.
"It's an interesting phenomenon," agrees Xiao-Lun Wu, a physicist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania who also studies turbulence in soap films.
Kellay's experiment will be reported in the journal Physical Review Letters.