Simple Science Tricks – Clouds in a Bottle

Clouds are beautiful! You look up to the sky and you see them in different shapes and sizes. What’s even more amazing is that they have different names for the different shapes; like CirrusNimbostratus, and Cumulus. Though, the biggest question we had when we all saw those beautiful clouds (or sometimes sad clouds) is how are they made?

A cloud is a large collection of water droplets, very tiny ones, or ice crystals. Since the droplets are super small and tiny, they can float up in the air.

Actually, all air contains water to be practice. However, when we are near the ground level, or sea level, water is usually in the form of water vapor, which is invisible to us because of the distribution of water molecule in the space provided (imagine a pea in a football stadium and you are seeing the stadium from a helicopter).

When warm air rises, it expands and cools due to changes in the atmosphere itself. When the water vapor gets cold, the water molecules come together slightly closer and form tiny droplets; just like how we cuddle with someone when we get cold ourselves. This process is called condensation, when air molecules condense due to cold and slowly form into a liquid. When billions of these droplets come together, yet they are spaced not too far from each other, they become a visible cloud.

How does condensation work?

Condensation forms when water changes from a vapor (or gas) to a liquid. Consider the water molecules as people. For people to go around, hang out and meet with friends, they need energy. In the presence of heat, there is energy for things to happen (not extreme heat, of course).

People cannot stand extreme heat; otherwise, this place would have been packed!

So water molecules party it up and rock out everywhere in the air because of decent heat. However, as the water is cooled and there is less heat energy for the individual molecules and particles to move around, it then condenses. Just like cuddling. Therefore, condensation happens because of change in temperature.

How do clouds float?

Clouds are heavy. The water in a cloud can have a mass of several million tons. So, how do they float?

Cloud droplets are also about 1000 times heavier than evaporated (gas) water, so they are much heavier than air. However, they do not fall, but stay in the air, because there is warm air all round the heavier water droplets. You can imagine the warm air being bullies pushing the water to be together into a droplet.

When water changes from gas to droplets, this makes heat. Because the droplets are very small, they “stick” to the warm air. And thus, they float.

The Experiment

The Summary

Make some clouds in a bottle.

What you need:

  • Tea spoon
  • A 2-Liter bottle and a cap
  • Matches/Fire
  • Piece of Newspaper


What’s going on?

As the video mentioned, the increase in pressure and decrease in pressure is increasing the temperature (remember how hot it is when using a bicycle pump?). This phenomena is better explained by this glorious formula, ideal Gas Law:

PV = nRT

No, we don't measure gas with those moles. Nor the moles on your body!

Where the volume (V) is constant because your gas is in the bottle of volume 2 liters, and there is a constant amount of gas (n) measured in moles, R is the ideal, or universal, gas constant, equal to the product of Boltzmann’s constant and Avogadro’s constant. And finally, T is temperature. As pressure changes often to higher pressure on average, it increases the change in temperature, leading to higher temperature (since the original temperature is constant).

Given the increase in temperature, change in pressure, and presence of water molecules in the bottle, clouds are formed satisfying the conditions and explanations mentioned above!

Science and Art

Last night, my friends from the San Jose Baha’i community hosted a devotional program with the theme revolving around the arts at the San Jose Baha’i Center. The program was exciting and out of the box. Having had held devotionals before at our house, this program was different. The devotionals started with series of prayers from the Holy Writings, where we then transitioned to reading quotes relevant to the arts from Baha’i Writings and other sources. After everyone has shared their thoughts on the Holy Writings and arts, we broke out into groups and engaged in artistic activity; whether it is creative writing, composing music, theater/drama, or traditional arts. It was a great idea to build a sense of engagement in the program that provides both spiritual and mental growth in one setting.

Many great points and views were shared during the discussion portion of the group. Among them include how the arts and science are interchangeable, and how art has evolved in history to finally reach the stage where humanity can foster their talents and have access to tools and instruments related to art with ease. In addition, one of the participants has expressed that art is not only a mean to entertain the public, but also to express oneself of their identity and emotions; a channel to which people can express their thoughts and ideas. Another point made is how powerful arts are, and how it can be used to promote the well-being of community, or lead to tyranny. An example of such power can be seen during World War II where the arts were used to promote the propaganda and the interest of one nation.

From these points, I realized that through the power of art and practicing of the art, people can help discover themselves and shape themselves in a healthier manner rather than idolizing individuals and following their footsteps religiously without reflection.

If art were to be the medium of self-expression, science complements it as the medium of understanding of the self.

Art and Science can be interchangeable, where a mathematical formula or computer architecture can be defined as “beautiful”, and the beauty and mystery of symmetry can be reflected through the lens of geometry.

Whether you are a scientist, an artist, or a mix of both, excel in them. Let it become a portal of human progress and self-development, for both yourself and your community.

The Video

The video that I posted in this blog shows a beautiful correlation between arts and sciences. The amazing discovery by Ramesh Raskar, associate professor at MIT Media Lab and co-founder of EyeNetra, presents how light (or packets of photons) travels. What was magnificent is how light did not create a ripple effect on a tomato due to the properties of tomatoes structure, where light travels internally and then exits in the back (or wherever the light bounces from within the tomato). The idea was derived from a work of art made possible by a scientist (the bullet piercing through the apple photograph, for example), and this is among the many steps of progress in the field of physics, and of art.