Researchers in Australia have demonstrated a “tractor beam” capable of manipulating floating objects from a distance using surface waves on water. And, unlike some research, you can try to replicate this result right in the comfort of your own bathtub! When a wave generator oscillates up and down, it creates surface waves that move objects and particles on the water’s surface. When the wave amplitudes are small, the outgoing wave fronts tend to be planar, as in part (a) of the figure above. These planar waves push surface flow away from the wave generator in a central outward jet, and new fluid is entrained from the sides to replace it. This creates the kind of flowfield shown in the streaklines of part (b).
Increasing the amplitude of the surface waves drastically changes the surface flow’s behavior. Larger wave amplitudes are more susceptible to instabilities due to the nonlinear nature of the surface waves. This means that the planar wave fronts seen in part (a) break down into a three-dimensional wavefield, like the one shown in part (c). Near the wave-maker, the surface waves now behave chaotically. This pulsating motion ejects surface flow parallel to the wave-maker, which in turn draws fluid and any floating object toward the wave-maker. The corresponding surface flowfield is shown in part (d). The researchers are refining the process, but they hope the physics will one day be useful in applications oil spill clean-up. (Video credit: Australia National University; image and research credit: H. Punzmann et al. 1, 2; via phys.org; submitted by Tracy M)
A water droplet can rebound completely without spreading from a superhydrophobic surface. The photo above is a long exposure image showing the trajectory of such a droplet as it bounces. In the initial bounces, the droplet leaves the surface fully, following a parabolic path with each rebound. The droplet’s kinetic energy is sapped with each rebound by surface deformation and vibration, making each bounce smaller than the last. Viscosity damps the drop’s vibrations, and the droplet eventually comes to rest after twenty or so rebounds. (Image credit: D. Richard and D. Quere)
The coalescence of two liquid droplets takes less than the blink of an eye, but it is the result of an intricate interplay between surface tension, viscosity, and inertia. The high-speed video above was filmed at 16000 frames per second, yet the initial coalescence of the silicone oil drops is still nearly instantaneous. At the very instant the drops meet, an infinitesimally small neck is formed between the droplets. Mathematically speaking, the pressure and curvature of the droplets diverge as a result of this tiny contact area. This is an example of a singularity. Surface tension rapidly expands the neck, sending capillary waves rippling along the drops as they become one. (Video credit: S. Nagel et al.; research credit: J. Paulsen)
When a water drop strikes a pool, it can form a cavity in the free surface that will rebound into a jet. If a well-timed second drop hits that jet at the height of its rebound, the impact creates an umbrella-like sheet like the one seen here. The thin liquid sheet expands outward from the point of impact, its rim thickening and ejecting tiny filaments and droplets as surface tension causes a Plateau-Rayleigh-type instability. Tiny capillary waves—ripples—gather near the rim, an echo of the impact between the jet and the second drop. All of this occurs in less than the blink of an eye, but with high-speed video and perfectly-timed photography, we can capture the beauty of these everyday phenomena. (Photo credit: H. Westum)
Droplets of silicone oil bounce on a pool of the same thanks to the vibration provided by a loudspeaker. Each droplet’s bounce causes ripples in the pool and the interference between these ripples fixes the droplets in lockstep with one another. As long as the vibration continues to feed the thin layer of air that separates the droplets from the pool during each bounce and no impurities break the surface tension at the interface, the droplets will bounce indefinitely on their liquid trampoline. Such systems can be used to observe quantum-mechanical behavior like wave-particleduality on a macro-scale. (Photo credit: A. Labuda and J. Belina)
I’ve often noticed that, when water splashes (especially as with raindrops or other forms of spray), often it appears that small droplets of water skitter off on top of the larger surface before rejoining the main body. Is this an actual phenomenon, or an optical illusion? What causes it?
That’s a great observation, and it’s a real-world example of some of the physics we’ve talked about before. When a drop hits a pool, it rebounds in a little pillar called a Worthington jet and often ejects a smaller droplet. This droplet, thanks to its lower inertia, can bounce off the surface. If we slow things way down and look closely at that drop, we’ll see that it can even sit briefly on the surface before all the air beneath it drains away and it coalesces with the pool below. But that kind of coalescence cascade typically happens in microseconds, far too fast for the human eye.
But it is possible outside the lab to find instances where this effect lasts long enough for the eye to catch. Take a look at this video. Here Destin of Smarter Every Day captures some great footage of water droplets skittering across a pool. They last long enough to be visible to the naked eye. What’s happening here is the same as the situation we described before, except that the water surface is essentially vibrating! The impacts of all the multitude of droplets create ripples that undulate the water’s surface continuously. As a result, air gets injected beneath the droplets and they skate along above the surface for longer than they would if the water were still. (Video credit: SuperSloMoVideos)
This high-speed video shows the remarkable resilience of a water droplet upon impact against as a solid surface. The droplet deforms into a pancake-shape, with its center depressing almost flat before rebounding upward. The rest of the drop follows, splitting into several droplets as capillary waves dance across its surface. When one satellite drop almost escapes, the main droplet just barely comes in contact with it, the coalescence enough to tip surface tension into pulling them together instead of breaking them apart. (Video credit: K. Suh/ChemistryWorldUK)
When a drop falls from a moderate height into a shallow pool, its impact creates a complicated pattern. The photo above is a composite image showing a top-down view 100 ms after such an impact. On the left side, the flow is visualized using dye whereas the right shows a schlieren photograph, in which contrast indicates variations in density. Both methods show the same general structure - an inner vortex ring generated at the edge of the impact crater and formed mostly of drop fluid and an outer vortex ring, consisting primarily of pool fluid, formed by the spreading wave. Both regions show signs of instability and breakdown. (Photo credit: A. Wilkens et al.)
Capillary waves—ripples—interfere with one another after the photographer throws objects into a narrow point in a small lake. The reflections of these waves off the lake’s boundaries and against one another creates a mosaic-like geometric effect on the liquid surface. (Photo credit: Jorgen Tharaldsen/National Geographic Photo Contest)