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Friday, November 25, 2005

The 11-Year Quest to Create Disappearing Colored Bubbles

 
photo by John B. Carnett

The 11-Year Quest to Create Disappearing Colored Bubbles
Chemical burns, ruined clothes, 11 years, half a million dollars�it's not easy to improve the world's most popular toy. Yet the success of one inventor's quest to dye a simple soap bubble may change the way the world uses color

By Mike Haney | Popular Science | November 2005
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Tim Kehoe has stained the whites of his eyes deep blue. He's also stained his face, his car, several bathtubs and a few dozen children. He's had to evacuate his family because he filled the house with noxious fumes. He's ruined every kitchen he's ever had. Kehoe, a 35-year-old toy inventor from St. Paul, Minnesota, has done all this in an effort to make real an idea he had more than 10 years ago, one he's been told repeatedly cannot be realized: a colored bubble.

No, not the shimmering rainbow effect you see when the light catches a clear soap bubble. Kehoe's bubble would radiate a single, vibrant hue throughout the entire sphere�a green bubble, an orange bubble, a hot-pink bubble. It's a bubble that can make CEOs giggle and stunned mothers tear up in awe. It's a bubble you don't expect to see, conditioned as you are to the notion that soap bubbles are clear. An unnaturally beautiful bubble.

Kehoe made a bubble like that when he was 26, after only two years of trashed countertops and chemical fires. He showed it to toy-company executives, who called it a "holy grail." And then it broke, as bubbles always do. And when it did, the dye inside escaped onto clothes and carpets and walls and skin, staining everything it touched. The execs told him to come back with a bubble they could wash off their boardroom table.

That was nine years ago. In the intervening years, Kehoe continued to mix, boil, and brew with endless enthusiasm and little success. Until one day, his stubborn persistence led him to $500,000 in financial backing, enough to hire a dye chemist. Together, they took Kehoe's obsession to an outcome even more amazing than he had ever hoped, an outcome no one could have anticipated for the simple reason that no one imagined it possible. The secret to nonstaining colored bubbles, it turns out, is a dye that could unlock a revolution in color chemistry. All you need to do is make color disappear.
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read the whole story:
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