The bursting of a balloon is more complicated, and beautiful, than you might think.
A new slow-mo video made by scientists at the Laboratoire de Physique Statistique in Paris shows that balloons come apart in two very different ways, depending on how inflated they are before popping.
When a moderately inflated balloon is pierced by a sharp instrument, it bursts along a single split in the latex without any fragmentation:
But when a fully inflated balloon is pierced, it breaks up along multiple cracks into many fragments:
The scientists concluded that when the stress on the latex was high enough, the velocity of the initial crack would approach the speed of sound, New Scientist reported.
At that point, “the material in front of the crack does not know it is arriving, so it cannot reconfigure its stress and mechanical properties,” Sébastien Moulinet, one of the scientists, explained to New Scientist. “It cannot arrange itself so that a single crack continues.”
Instead of a clean break, there’s chaos and multiple cracks spread through the balloon.
The scientists said their research could be applied to other common materials that crack, such as glass or metals, and help in the development of stronger materials that when they break, break more safely.
“[B]alloons burst the same way other materials do, but are easier to observe experimentally,” Moulinet told The Huffington Post in an email.
He suggested one other, perhaps less scientific justification for the research: “In addition, we were never getting tired of watching explosions in slow motion!”
A paper describing the research was accepted Oct. 2 for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.
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