So, he explains, looking slightly deflated that his Mr. Wizard bit didn't suffice, soap is what chemists call a surfactant. On a sheet of paper, he sketches something that looks like
a sperm. The head of the soap molecule, he explains, is attracted to water, the tail repelled by it. Spritz enough of these part-hydrophilic, part-hydrophobic structures into water, and the molecules automatically ball up into micelles. Rasmussen and his team won't use dish soap, of course, but some other surfactant; like many details of the protocell's design, they will know which one only after intensive experimentation. But the basic recipe for protocells starts with throwing a fatty-acid surfactant into a beaker of water. In the blink of an eye, there should be, as Rasmussen puts it,
"zillions" of blobby micelles swirling inside.