Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics

Celebrating the physics of all that flows. Ask a question, submit a post idea or send an email. You can also follow FYFD on Twitter and Google+. FYFD is written by Nicole Sharp, PhD.

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Posts tagged "normal field instability"

The Flow II" film by Bose Collins and colleagues features a ferrofluid, a magnetically-sensitive liquid made up of a carrier fluid like oil and many tiny, ferrous nanoparticles. Although ferrofluids are known for many strange behaviors, their most distinctive one is the spiky appearance they take on when exposed to a constant magnetic field. This peak-and-valley structure is known as the normal-field instability. It’s the result of the fluid attempting to follow the magnetic field lines upward. Gravity and surface tension oppose this magnetic force, allowing the fluid to be drawn upward only so far until all three forces balance.  (Video credit: B. Collins et al.)

Ferrofluids are known for their fascinating behaviors when subjected to magnetic fields, especially for the distinctive peaks they can form. In this video, we see a very thin ferrofluid drop on a pre-wetted surface just as a uniform perpendicular magnetic field is applied. Immediately the droplet breaks up into tiny isolated peaks that migrate out to the circumference. The interface breaks down from center, where the drop height is largest, and moves outward. Simultaneously, the diffusion of ferrofluid from the circumferential droplets into the surrounding fluid lowers the magnetization of those droplets, making it more difficult for them to repel their neighbors. As a result, they drift outward more slowly and get caught by the faster-moving droplets from within. (Video credit: C. Chen)

Here a ferrofluid climbs a spiral steel structure sitting on an electromagnet. Magnetic field lines emanating from the sculpture's edges tend to push the ferrofluid out into long spikes—part of the normal field instability—but surface tension resists. The short, somewhat squat spikes we see are the balance struck between these opposing forces. Though known for their wild appearance, ferrofluids appear many in common applications, including hard drives, speakers, and MRI contrast agents. Researchers have also recently suggested they might help understand the behavior of the multiverse. (Photo credit: P. Davis et al.)