Uncork a bottle of champagne, and as the pressure of the liquid is abruptly removed, bubbles immediately form and then rapidly begin the process of “coarsening,” in which larger bubbles grow at the expense of smaller ones.
This phenomenon is known as “Ostwald ripening,” and though it is most familiar for its role in bubbly beverages, it can also be observed on a much larger scale in a power-generating turbine. Most power stations rely on boilers to convert water into steam, but the phase transition involved is highly complex, and no one is sure exactly what occurs inside the boiler—in particular how bubbles form.
So a team of researchers from the University of Tokyo, Kyusyu University and RIKEN in Japan set their sights on finding out. The researchers simulated bubble formation at the molecular level using the K computer at RIKEN, the most powerful system in Japan.
It takes around 10,000 molecules to simulate a bubble, the researchers said, and the team ended up simulating 700 million particles. The researchers said it was the first simulation to investigate multi-bubble nuclei without relying on artificial conditions.
An enhanced understanding of the behavior of bubbles may eventually enable the design of more efficient power stations or propellers.
The research findings were published in The Journal of Chemical Physics.
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