Science Communication

Video: How does soap work?

Soap is great for cleaning up after dinner, but what’s the science behind it?

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We use soap every day to clean up oily messes, but do you know how it works? In this video you’ll learn what soap does on the molecular level — why oil and water don’t mix, what a surfactant is, and why surfactants help you clean your dishes.

I made this video because I felt I had a satisfying and intuitive explanation that I couldn’t find elsewhere. I wanted to explain the phenomenon without invoking the concept of surface energy.

The original version was made for a class in advanced statistical mechanics. Our assignment was to create a short video on a topic related to statistical mechanics or soft matter physics for a general audience. Once I started making the video, I was drawn in and ended up spending many hours on it. This is an edited and cleaned-up version of the original.

Ben WienerElsevier Connect Contributor

Ben Wiener is pursuing a PhD in physics at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He loves thinking, talking and arguing about physics. In the lab, he works on nanoscale soft-matter physics and electrokinetics. Outside of the lab, he spends his time working on a wide variety of projects ranging from computer programming, electronics and robotics to radio, woodworking and film. You can see some of these projects on his blog, Ben’s Doings.

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