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January 11, 2016

Cavitation bubbles bursting with cleaning power

These bubbles may be able to rid fruits and vegetables of E. coli and Salmonella without chemicals

It's easy to think of soap suds when one thinks of bubbles, but these bubbles can clean without chemicals. These are cavitation bubbles, which are created when air is churned up in water. And what researchers are learning could ultimately lead to chemical-free cleaning methods for fruits and vegetables.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), biofluid scientist Sunghwan "Sunny" Jung and his team at Virginia Tech are studying how a cavitation bubble creates a suctioning effect when it collapses, pulling everything close by toward it. Cavitation bubbles are already in use for certain industrial applications, such as cleaning water at treatment plants. Jung's fluid mechanics lab is working with food scientists to see how effective cavitation bubbles are at pulling everything from soil to E. coli and Salmonella away from the smooth surface of a tomato or the bumpy surface of a cantaloupe. In the future, Jung envisions bubble machines as a common appliance at farmer's markets and maybe even in households.

See this related YouTube video:

Research in this episode was supported by NSF grant #1335957, Collaborative Proposal: Long-term dynamics of water-entry. Jung also has similarly named but separate research grant from NSF.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.