Inventor creates disappearing ink bubbles

August 24, 2009 7:50:26 AM PDT
Toy bubbles might not seem very high tech, but creating a colored bubble has been a longtime challenge in the toy industry -- in particular, making one that does not stain clothing.

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The stains on my shirt today are from colored bubbles. Why is a colored bubble such a big deal? Because toy companies have been trying to make one for a hundred years.

Bubbles are magical. At the Exploratorium in San Francisco, one of the most popular exhibits enables anyone to make big ones, little ones, bubbles within bubbles and bubble tubes. But, so far, not colored ones.

"A lot of people believed that you can't make a colored bubble," explains Tim Kehoe. "That the bubble wall is too thin to hold color. And what you would end up with is a little spot of color at the bottom of the bubble."

Kehoe is an inventor living in St. Paul, Minnesota. With no degree in chemistry, he worked in his kitchen for 15 years to solve the problem. He developed a chain of molecules that reveal color only when they break apart.

But, he acknowledges, "The problem was it stained everything. Before I was married, I was renting, and lost damage deposits on a lot of places."

So, in another three years, he came up with a washable dye. But in focus groups, mothers objected.

"I reassured them that these things were washable, but it became apparent that that wasn't going to be good enough. These things had to actually go clear," said Kehoe.

Finally, after years more research, Tim is finally bottling Zubbles -- the first colored bubble with disappearing ink. In tests on my shirt, it took from three minutes to three hours, but the stains do disappear completely. Now, Kehoe is applying the technology to toothpaste that tells how long kids have brushed, sprays that tell you what area you have covered, and soap and mouthwash. Now that makes sense, but why does the world need a colored bubble?

"What an awful question!" he protests. "Why did the world need color television? It's just a far superior product," said Kehoe.

LINKS:

Zubbles (available soon at the Exploratorium)
www.zubbles.com/

Exploratorium Bubbularium
http://www.exploratorium.edu/ronh/bubbles/bubbles.html

Bubbles for kids
http://www.exploratorium.edu/science_explorer/bub_dome.html

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