Bubble Rings Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- What are Bubble Rings?
- What is a vortex ring?
- How do vortex rings work?
- Where else do vortex rings appear in our world?
- Can bubble rings be created in any shape besides a circle?
- How do humans create bubble rings with their mouth?
- How do you get a dolphin to make bubble rings?
- How does your RingMachine device work?
- How did you have the idea for the RingMachine?
- Can other people make bubble rings?
- Can vortex rings be dangerous?
- Where can I buy a RingMachine?
- What Bubble Ring patents exist?
Bubble Rings are like smoke rings, except they exist under water, and they are made of pure, clean air instead of smoke. Smoke rings and bubble rings are both examples of what are known as vortex rings. Some people spell it bubblering instead of bubble ring, by the way.
A vortex ring is the phenomenon where a quantity of fluid or gas in a toroid (donut) shape, travels through a medium of fluid or gas, while spinning like a thick circular bracelet that is being rolled off of a person's arm. (Except the spin is in the opposite direction as when a bracelet is rolled off in this way.)
Let's begin with the most well known example of a vortex ring, the smoke ring. A smoke ring starts off simply as a discrete puff of smoke that is pushed quickly and abruptly through a circular opening. When the puff of smoke hits the standing air in the room, the result is pretty much the same as if the puff of smoke is just a circular ball of smoke, standing still, and the air around it is the thing that is moving, rushing towards the ball of smoke like an oncoming wind. This "wind" hits the ball of smoke and begins pushing the outer edges back. The parts of the outer edge that are pushed back curl back into the ball, initiating the donut shape. Once the puff of smoke has instead become a donut, or toriod, shape, this shape is perpetuated in the following way. The oncoming "wind" is pushing on the outer and inner edges of the ring at the same speed, which tries to make the ring spin in both and inward and an outward direction at the same time. However there is more "outer edge" than there is "inner edge," so that's why the push of the "wind" causes the ring to continue spinning in the same direction, which is, with the outer edge travelling in the direction of the "wind."
A bubble ring works pretty much just the same way, only underwater. Bubble rings are actually made of two different rings, one inside the other, spinning in the same direction. The outer ring is made of water, and the inner one is made of air. (Think of a fat round bracelet that has been baked into the center of a bagel.) The air stays in the middle of a bubble ring because it is lighter than water, and the center of any vortex is a low-pressure area because of centrifugal force. You know the little miniature tornado you can make by stirring your glass of water quickly? Well, if you could put a top on your glass of water, and get the water to spin even faster, then you'd have a straight column of air in the middle of the glass, not a "V", or tornado, shape. A bubble ring is kind of like a long glass of water, spinning like this, that has been curved all the way around in a circle until it meets itself again.
Some bubble rings start out as just spinning air, and then the spin of the air gets the water near it to begin spinning also. The bubble rings that dolphins create by releasing air from their blow holes straight up towards the surface are examples of this. Other bubble rings start off as spinning water rings, and are not visible to us until some air is released near enough to the ring to get sucked into the middle. Dolphins have been seen to create rings like this by giving a certain kick with their tail fins, then swimming up to the invisible water-only vortex ring and releasing a short pulse of air that gets pulled into the ring. (Think how cool it would be to be able to "see" with echolocation, the way a dolphin can, and see a water-only vortex ring travelling through the water!)
Smoke rings have been seen shooting out of volcanoes. They can be easily created in any room using a simple empty box or container. You can learn to make smoke rings, or even invisible vortex rings (just pure clean air), that will travel all the way across a room and seemingly magically puff out a lit candle. Some artillery guns and cannons cause large smoke rings to appear when they fire, as do some explosions. It is known for sure that bubble rings are made naturally in the wild by both dolphins and humpback whales. In dolphins the creation of bubble rings appears mostly to be a play behaviour. In humpback whales, it seems to be a technique that some of them learn while creating bubble nets, which is a feeding behaviour. Vortex rings have been shown to appear in some people's heart chamber, (rings made of blood travelling through the blood in the chamber), as a form of pathology. (It interferes with the normal flow of blood in the chamber, and can cause blood to pool in the "corner" of the chamber, not circulate correctly, and for that reason increase the chances of blood clots.)
Well not really. It is possible to create slightly mis-shapen bubble rings, such as an elongated oval, but the perfect circle shape is the one that lasts the longest. Dolphins sometimes create bubble rings that travel sideways through the water, instead of up towards the surface, and these bubble rings are sometimes more like arches, with most of the air appearing at the top part of the ring, and the bottom part of the ring partially or completely missing.
It is not that difficult of a trick to learn. Most good swimmers can learn it in a couple hours of practice.
Follow these steps:
- Wear a pair of swim goggles, so you can see the bubble rings once you create them. A scuba mask can be used also, but sometimes the bottom part of a scuba mask comes down too close to your mouth and prevents you from releasing the air bubble in the correct way.
- Find an area of a pool that is about 4 or 5 feet deep. The area selected should have a minimum of other swimmers playing nearby, to minimize the turbulence in the water. You should also stay away from inlet pipes where water is flowing into the pool, because they also add turbulence to the water. A place close to a ladder can be a good choice, so you will have something to hold on to while you are under water.
(By the way: once I get my RingMachine invention onto the store shelves, you will be able to skip past all this stuff. All you'll have to do is buy one of the toys, drop it in the pool, and watch it create perfect bubble rings for you! But of course, it is always fun to learn a new trick like this...)
- Take a deep breath, slide under water and and lay down on the bottom of the pool. Most people float well when they take a deep breath and go under water, so you will have to choose a way to hold yourself underwater. (You can't hold yourself under by "paddling" water upwards, because this would create turbulence in the water and prevent the creation of bubble rings.) You may wish to have a friend stand near you, so that you can reach out with one hand and grab their ankle, and hold yourself underwater this way. Or you can reach out and hold onto the bottom of a pool ladder.
- Next, tilt your head all the way back so that you are looking straight up at the surface. If you are wearing a scuba mask which covers your nose, you can do this with no problem. However, if you are wearing swim goggles that only cover your eyes, then you can't tilt your head back like this without water rushing into your nose. For this reason you will have to use one hand to pinch your nose shut. Or you could use one of those rubber nose pincher things. Both methods look pretty silly, but bubble rings are worth it! If you hold your nose shut with your thumb and finger, you will have to learn to get the rest of your fingers and hand well out of the way of your mouth. Basically you want to hold your hand in a fist, as if you were holding an ice cream cone in your hand. Then smash that invisible ice cream cone into your forehead, and hold your hand there. Then open your thumb and forefinger just enough to reach out and pinch your nose shut. Your elbow should be raised as far up as you can raise it. Now you're ready to blow out the air.
- Basically, you want to release a pulse of air about the size and shape of a golf ball, or a little larger. You can try saying the word POWP underwater. You'll have to experiment. Things to remember: When your mouth is all the way open and letting the air out, your mouth should be in as close to a circle shape as you can make it. Try to make the pulse of air start and stop in a sudden, clean way, so that you create just one large circular bubble, not many smaller bubbles in a stream. And make sure that you have your head tilted back far enough, so you are looking straight up at the surface of the water. If you are using one hand to pinch your nose shut, make sure the rest of your hand is as far out of the way as possible.
- Oh, and don't forget to come up again for more air please!
Good question. I think you need to learn to read their minds first. Once you can do that, choose a dolphin, read his mind, and learn from him how to say "make a bubble ring now please" in his language. Then stick your head in the water and say it to him, and hope for the best.
Although I have a patent on my RingMachine invention, which makes bubble rings automatically, I am still minimizing how much I describe the device for now. But you are welcome to have fun looking at the pictures and movies that I have here on this web site, and try to figure it out. Soon you will be able to buy a RingMachine for yourself and see just how it works.
I was one of 6 kids. We lived just up the hill from the neighborhood pool. During the summer, when school was out, my mother got a little more peace and quiet around the house by kicking us out of the house every morning, to go down to the pool for swim team practice. Like lots of swim team people, I learned early on how to shoot water out of my clasped hands like a squirt gun. (I can still knock an empty soda can over at 15 feet on the first shot.) But somehow, while playing underwater one day, I also discovered how to make bubble rings with my mouth. Years later, after I sold my first patent to Microsoft, I was trying to figure out what my next invention and patent should be, and I decided to create a machine that would allow other people, who were not expert swimmers, see and play with bubble rings.
Oh sure. I discovered it on my own, but swimmers have been discovering how to make bubble rings for as long as people have been swimming in clear, still water, I'm sure. I have included links to several other web sites which have photographs of scuba divers creating and playing with bubble rings.
I suppose you could say that. There is a patent in existance for a special type of torpedo that deliberately creates a bubble ring to increase the destructive power of the device. The big ring that you see around the central column of some mushroom clouds is just a huge smoke ring. And as I mentioned previously, many types of big guns make smoke rings when they fire. On the other hand, I have placed a version of my RingMachine device in a fishtank with a couple of goldfish, and they didn't mind it at all.
Well, right now, you can't. Help me find my investors--the sooner I find funding, the sooner we can get in production and the sooner the device will be on the shelves in a toy store near you!
Here is a list of some of the main patents that have issued relating to bubble rings. And congratulations to the new guy on the block, by the way. Andrew S. W. Thomas received a patent in November 2004 for a bubble ring generator. Dr. Thomas is an astronaut that has been on multiple space shuttle missions and spent an extended period of time on the Mir space station.(Viewing patents images from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office web site can require that you install an extra piece of software. All patent links open in a new window.)
2,855,714 10/14/1958 W. Thomas
Smoke Ring Producing Toy Gun
(This one is not yet in the USPTO text database, but you can click here if you have the image viewer installed.)
4,534,914 08/13/1985 M. Takahashi
Method and apparatus for producing vortex rings of a gas in a liquid
5,947,784 09/07/1999 J. Cullen
Apparatus for producing toroidal bubbles and method
6,488,270 12/03/2002 D. Whiteis
Apparatus for creating vortex rings in a fluid medium
6,736,375 05/18/2004 D. Whiteis
Apparatus for creating vortex rings in a fluid medium
6,824,125 11/30/2004 A. Thomas
Simple method for the controlled production of vortex ring bubbles of a gas in a liquid