From Plastics Wiki, free encyclopedia
The most general definition of foam is a substance that is formed by trapping many gas bubbles in a liquid or solid. It can also refer to anything that is analogous to such a phenomenon, such as quantum foam. Often people mean polyurethane foam (foam rubber), Styrofoam or some other manufactured foam when they are using the term.
From the early 20th century, various types of specially manufactured solid foams came into use. The low density of these foams made them excellent as thermal insulators and flotation devices, and their lightness and compressibility made them ideal as packing materials and stuffings. Some liquid foams also found uses in extinguishing fires, especially oil fires.
Foam, in this case meaning "bubbly liquid", is also produced as an often unwanted by-product in the manufacture of various substances. For example, foam is a serious problem in the chemical industry, especially for biochemical processes. Many biological substances, for example proteins, easily create foam on agitation and/or aeration. Foam is a problem because it alters the liquid flow and blocks oxygen transfer from air (therefore preventing microbial respiration in fermentation processes). For this reason, anti-foaming agent compounds, like silicone oils, are added to prevent these problems.
Foaming around the mouth can be a symptom of rabies in animals. The term sea foam is used to describe the foam that forms on top of seawater from the action of waves. In some ways, leavened bread is a foam, as the yeast causes the bread to rise by producing tiny bubbles of gas in the dough.
Structure of foams
Real-life foams are typically disordered and have a variety of bubble sizes. The study of idealised foams is closely linked to the mathematical problems of space-filling and minimal surfaces. The Weaire-Phelan structure is believed to be the best possible (optimal) unit cell of a perfectly ordered foam, while Plateau's laws describe how the soap-films form structures in foams.