Ruben's Tube: Making Fire Dance With Science!

Updated on August 18, 2018
MicahI profile image

Micah is a financial analyst by day, and a person who does more fun things by night. He loves to travel, play games, and watch movies.

If you are looking for an awesome science experiment that will leave your spectators in awe, then search no more! The Rubens’ Tube is a hypnotic display of flame and sound that many people have never witnessed. While the experiment is not for the faint of heart (it involves flammable gas), this project is well worth your effort. With a passion for science and a little patience, you can be the proud creator of this scientific wonder!

Origins of the Rubens' Tube

The Ruben’s Tube, or standing wave flame tube, came about as an invention of Heinrich Rubens and Otto Krigar-Menzel, who were German physicists trying to determine whether it was possible to use fire as a tool to make sound waves visible. This question came about after a Dutch physics professor, Pieter Rijke, investigated the relationship between gases, fire, and sounds. In Rijke’s experiment, he used iron mesh within a large glass tube to create singing flames. When the glass was held over the fire, the glass would emit a musical tone which confused scientists. Later it was discovered that the sound was emitted due to the recurring motion of hot and cool airwaves. As the waves of air vibrated through the glass, sound resonated at the natural frequency of the glass tube.

Although Rubens is famously known for the invention of the Rubens’ Tube, his work with energy measurements of black-body radiation is equally as important. These measurements led Max Planck to discover the Planck black-body radiation law, which describes that physical bodies will spontaneously and continuously emit electromagnetic radiation with the greatest amount of radiation being only when a body is at thermal equilibrium. This discovery was the precursor to what we now know in modern physics as quantum theory.

Heinrich Rubens was born in 1865 and lived until 1922. He was a professor at the University of Berlin and a participant in the Solvay Conferences of 1911 and 1913. He received the Rumford Medal in 1910 and was nominated for the Nobel Prize (physics) three times between 1907-1909.

Heinrich Rubens (circled) at the first Solway conference (1911)
Heinrich Rubens (circled) at the first Solway conference (1911) | Source

So What Exactly Is a Rubens' Tube?

The Rubens’ Tube is a device that is used to teach acoustical resonance behavior. It was first described by Heinrich Rubens and Otto Krigar-Menzel in 1905 in a paper called the “Flammenröhrefür akustische Beobachtungen” which was published in the Annalen der Physik.

The original Rubens’ Tube used a four-meter section of pipe that had about two hundred holes across the top which were evenly spaced apart. Both ends of the tube were sealed shut, flammable gas was pumped into the pipe, and a fitted speaker was attached to one of the ends. When the tube was filled with the flammable gas, there was only one route for the gas to escape through, thus creating a row of diffusion flames across the top of the pipe. Since the pressure inside the tube was equalized, the row of flames would stand at the same height. As soon as you play sound through the attached speaker, the height of the flames will change quite drastically. The height changes that you see is equivalent to the wavelength of the sound being played.

And How Does It Work?

According to physics, the sounds that we hear are audible vibrations that require a medium or material to travel through. In the Rubens’ Tube, the sound waves that we hear from the music are traveling through the flammable gas within the tube. As the sound travels down the length of the tube, localized pressure areas will occur. When these areas of pressure are higher, the gas will escape the surrounding holes faster, creating taller flames. When the area of localized pressure is lower, the gas escaping the surrounding holes will cause shorter flames. These high and low-pressure areas are created by the sound waves traveling through the gas. This is what creates the gorgeous height pattern and subsequently the visible sound wave within the flames.

Once you have very carefully put the flammable gas inside the sealed tube and ignited the escaping gas, you will see typical standing flames. Although these flames will flicker and move around slowly, they do not do much else. However, once you change up the pressure inside the tube with sound waves, that’s when the magic happens! The wavelengths of the sound change with the frequency of the pitch of the music, thus changing the height of the flames and how they dance.

When observing the Rubens’ Tube, you will see two sets of behaviors. The first is when the sound waves traveling through the tube are quiet. The quiet sound waves will have relatively low-pressure differences than the gas flowing through the tube. When the pressure decreases, the flow will also be reduced, thus providing shorter flames. On the other hand, when the sound waves are very loud, the changes in the localized pressure are much larger than the pressure being created by the gas, thus the gas gets propelled out of the holes at a faster rate. This causes you to see the very thin, long flames.

Building a Rubens' Tube

There are a number of great resources available for building your own Rubens' Tube. Instructables hosts an especially great article with a step-by-step guide and detailed information. The Colorado School of Mines is also a great resource. Just remember to be extra careful since this experiment involves flammable gas and fire!

Poll

Are you interested in making a Ruben's Tube?

See results

© 2009 Micah

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Locke 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the info. I'm planning on building one. I imagine "Still Alive" and "Want You Gone" would sound and look great.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)