Any phenomenon in fluid dynamics typically involves the interaction and competition of many different forces. Sometimes these forces are of very different magnitudes, and it can be difficult to determine their effects. This video focuses on capillary force, which is responsible for a liquid’s ability to climb up the walls of its container, creating a meniscus and allowing plants and trees to passively draw water up from their roots. Being intermolecular in nature, capillary forces can be quite slight in comparison to gravitational forces, and thus it’s beneficial to study them in the absence of gravity.
In the 1950s, drop tower experiments simulating microgravity studied the capillary-driven motion of fluids up a glass tube that was partially submerged in a pool of fluid. Without gravity acting against it, capillary action would draw the fluid up to the top of the glass tube, but no droplets would be ejected. In the current research, a nozzle has been added to the tubes, which accelerates the capillary flow. In this case, both in terrestrial labs and aboard the International Space Station, the momentum of the flow is sufficient to invert the meniscus from concave to convex, allowing a jet of fluid out of the tube. At this point, surface tension instabilities take over, breaking the fluid into droplets. (Video credit: A. Wollman et al.)
Here fluid is ejected as two flat plates collide, creating a sheet of silicone oil. The initially smooth sheet forms a thicker ligament about the edge. Gravity causes the sheet to bend downward like a curtain, and growing instabilities along the ligament cause the development of a wavy edge. The points of the waves develop droplets that eject outward. Not long after this photograph, the entire liquid sheet will collapse into ligaments and flying droplets. (Photo credit: B. Chang, B. Slama, and S. Jung)
The archer fish hunts by shooting a jet of water at insects in the leaves above and knocking them into the water. How the fish achieve this feat has been a matter of contention. A study of high-speed video of the archer’s shot shows that fluid dynamics are key. The fish releases a pulsed liquid jet, imparting greater velocity to the tail of the jet than the head. As a result, the tail tends to catch up to the head and increase the jet’s mass on impact while decreasing the duration of impact. Simultaneously, the jet tends to break down into droplets via the Rayleigh-Plateauinstability caused by surface tension. Surface tension’s power to hold the water in droplets combined with the inertial effects of the pulsed jet create a ball of fluid that strikes the archer’s prey with more than five times the power than vertebrate muscles alone can impart. For more on archer fish, check out this video and the original research paper by A. Vailati et a. (Photo credits: Scott Linstead and BBC; submitted by Stuart R)
A ping pong ball bounces off a puddle, drawing a liquid column upward behind it. This photo shows the instant after the fluid has disconnected from the ball, allowing it to rebound without further loss of momentum to the fluid. The fluid column begins to fall under gravity, the tiny undulations in its radius growing via the Rayleigh-Plateauinstability and eventually causing the column to separate from the puddle. You can see the whole process in action in this high-speed video. (Photo credit: BYU Splash Lab)