Science of Bubbles The Origins
From Natural Springs to Artificial Carbonation
Humanity has always had a remarkable relationship with sparkling water. In ancient times, natural springs were regarded as something extraordinary, almost magical. Later, those same sources of water were considered supernatural or even demonic. In 400 BC, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, spoke about the medicinal properties of water springs, while later, Romans were convinced that these waters helped treat gallbladder stones.
At the time, nobody knew how this natural phenomenon occurs. Everyone, however, sought after it with a passion for drinking or bathing. The first attempt to crack this mystery came in 1340, when Italian physician Giacomo de Dondi decided to study the Abano Terme area springs in an attempt to explain the water’s natural carbonation. His primitive studies reached the conclusion that spring water is rich in metallic salts, which assured the concerned public of the time that it does have medicinal properties. Years went by, research methods evolved, and so we reached the year 1767, when a revolution was destined to change the way people drink all over the world.
It was all thanks to Englishman Joseph Priestley, who discovered a method of infusing water with carbon dioxide.
By 1772, he had perfected his method, which he presented at the Royal Society of London in a paper titled Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air; In order to communicate to it the peculiar Spirit and Virtues of Pyrmont Water, And other Mineral Waters of a similar nature. He received the Society’s approval to build his creation. Priestley’s method required the use of a glass bottle filled with distilled or filtered water. The bottle was placed upside down in a basin also filled with water, enough to cover the bottle’s neck. It is said that the neck was connected via leather tubing to a pig’s bladder, and Priestley would gradually (and to make a long story short) add sulphuric acid and chalk. Having reacted with the water, and after a vigorous fifteen-minute shaking of the bottle, these two materials created carbon dioxide.
Priestley’s approach was truly a revelation. People had been trying to mimic nature for centuries in creating artificially carbonated water, and the way to do so was finally closer than ever. This discovery was so seminal that the next 250 years were based upon it. It changed the way we drink and evolved sciences promoting marketing and advertising. The Soda Era had just begun!
It wasn’t long before Priestley’s research was taken even further. Seeing Priestley’s device as difficult to use and compromising to the aromatic result (as it went through the urinal bladder of an animal), Scot Physician John Nooth advanced the apparatus. In the late 18th century, he presented a household device that was small and practical enough to make its way into every (affluent) European kitchen. In just three years, Nooth managed to sell more than 1,000 water carbonation devices across Europe. Carbonated water was now a must-have, and more famous than ever.