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 "surface tension"

Terminator 2's T-1000, a liquid metal robot capable of changing its shape at will, just became a little less far-fetched. Researchers at NC State have reported a new method for controlling the form of a liquid gallium alloy. Surface tension governs the shape a liquid assumes when it is not confined by a container, and, although adding surfactants can slightly lower the surface tension, it does not substantially alter the liquid’s shape. Adding soap to water lets one make bubbles, but surface tension keeps the bubbles spherical no matter how much soap you add. Instead, these researchers control the surface tension of the liquid metal using a mild voltage. Applying a voltage creates (or removes) an oxide layer on the liquid metal’s surface, thereby altering the surface tension. By controlling the formation of the oxide layer, the researchers can change the surface tension from approximately 7x that of water to nearly zero. The video above demonstrates some of the liquid shape control this lets them achieve.  (VIdeo credit: M. Dickey et al.; research: M. Khan et al.; via PopSci)

Differences in viscosity or surface tension between two fluids can lead to finger-like instabilities. Here food dye placed on corn syrup forms narrow tendrils driven by the differing surface tensions of the two liquids. Similar dendritic shapes can be generated by injecting a low viscosity fluid into a high viscosity one (Saffmann-Taylor instability) or by pulling apart glass plates sandwiched around a high viscosity fluid. (Photo credit: T. Gaskill et al.)

A droplet falling onto a solid, dry surface seems like a simple situation, one that would be easy to understand. But splashes can be unpredictable.Velocity, viscosity, and surface tension all play clear roles, but the surrounding air also has an impact - drop the air pressure low enough and a droplet won’t splash. A new paper has tackled the problem, producing a mathematical model in agreement with experimental results. So why do some drops splash and others don’t? When a drop falls, its momentum flattens it into a pancake shape while surface tension struggles to hold it together. The spreading edge, called the lamella, can pull away from the surface. When it does, a pocket of high pressure forms beneath it due to lubrication effects, and the faster airflow over the top of the lamella creates a suction effect. This is analogous to a wing producing lift. Like the momentum that spread the droplet, the lift force pulls the lamella and ejecta sheet further up and outward, overcoming the restoring force of surface tension and tearing the droplet apart. For more on the effect, check out the research paper or this Inside Science article.  (Video credit: G. Riboux and J. Gordillo; via Inside Science)

Soap bubbles are ephemeral creations. The slightest prick will send them tearing apart in the blink of an eye. It may come as a surprise, therefore, that dropping a water droplet through a bubble will not break it. Instead, the bubble will heal itself using the Marangoni effect. In a soap bubble, the soap molecules act as a surfactant, lowering the surface tension of the water and allowing the fragile structure to hold together. When the water drop impacts the bubble, the local surface tension increases because of the relative lack of soap molecules. This increase in surface tension pulls at the rest of the bubble, drawing more soap molecules toward the point of contact. The effect evens out surface tension across the surface and stabilizes the bubble. You can test the effect at home, too. If you wet your finger, you can poke a soap bubble without popping it. (Video credit: G. Mitchell; via io9)

Paint seems to dance and leap when vibrated on a speaker. Propelled upward, the liquid stretches into thin sheets and thicker ligaments until surface tension can no longer hold the the fluid together and droplets erupt from the fountain. Often paints are shear-thinning, non-Newtonian fluids, meaning that their ability to resist deformation decreases as they are deformed. This behavior allows them to flow freely off a brush but then remain without running after application. In the context of vibration, though, shear-thinning properties cause the paint to jump and leap more readily. For more images, see photographer Linden Gledhill’s website. (Photo credit: L. Gledhill; submitted by pinfire)

We often think of raindrops as spherical or tear-shaped, but, in reality, a falling droplet’s shape can be much more complicated. Large drops are likely to break up into smaller droplets before reaching the ground. This process is shown in the collage above. The initially spherical drops on the left are exposed to a continuous horizontal jet of air, similar to the situation they would experience if falling at terminal velocity. The drops first flatten into a pancake, then billow into a shape called a bag. The bags consists of a thin liquid sheet with a thicker rim of fluid around the edge. Like a soap bubble, a bag’s surface sheet ruptures quickly, producing a spray of fine droplets as surface tension pulls the damaged sheet apart. The thicker rim survives slightly longer until the Plateau-Rayleigh instability breaks it into droplets as well. (Image credit: V. Kulkarni and P. Sojka)

In their latest video, Gavin and Dan of The Slow Mo Guys demonstrate what giant bubbles look like in high-speed video from birth to death. Surface tension, which arises from the imbalance of intermolecular forces across the soapy-water/air interface, is the driving force for bubbles. As they move the wand, cylindrical sheets of bubble film form. These bubble tubes undulate in part because of the motion of air around them. In a cylindrical form, surface tension cannot really counteract these undulations. Instead it drives the film toward break-up into multiple spherical bubbles. You can see examples of that early in the video. The second half of the video shows the deaths of these large bubble tubes when they don’t manage to pinch off into bubbles. The soap film tears away from the wand and the destructive front propagates down the tube, tearing the film into fluid ligaments and tiny droplets (most of which are not visible in the video). Instead it looks almost as if a giant eraser is removing the outer bubble tube, which is a pretty awesome effect.  (Video credit: The Slow Mo Guys)

Photographers Cassandra Warner and Jeremy Floto produced the "Clourant" series of high-speed photographs of colorful liquid splashes. The artists took special care to disguise the origin of splashes, making them appear like frozen sculptures. The photos are beautiful examples of making fluid effects and instabilities. Many of them feature thin liquid sheets with thicker rims just developing ligaments. In other spots, surface tension has been wholly overcome by momentum’s effects and what was once ligaments has exploded into a spray of droplets. (Photo credit: C. Warner and J. Floto; submitted by jshoer; via Colossal)

The Marangoni effect is generated by variations in surface tension at an interface. Such variations can be temperature-driven, concentration-driven, or simply due to the mixing between fluids of differing surface tensions as is the case here. The pattern in the image above formed after a dyed water droplet impacted a layer of glycerin. The initial impact of the drop formed an inner circle and outer ring. This image is from 30 seconds or so after impact, after the Marangoni instability has taken over. The higher surface tension of the water pulls the glycerin toward it, resulting in a flower-like pattern. (Photo credit: E. Tan and S. Thoroddsen)

On Earth, it’s easy for the effects of surface tension and capillary action to get masked by gravity’s effects. This makes microgravity experiments, like those performed with drop towers or onboard the ISS, excellent proving grounds for exploring fluid dynamics unhindered by gravity. The video above looks at how colliding jets of liquid water behave in microgravity. At low flow rates, opposed jets form droplets that bounce off one another. Increasing the flow rate first causes the droplets to coalesce and then makes the jets themselves coalesce. Similar effects are seen in obliquely positioned jets. Perhaps the most interesting clip, though, is at the end. It shows two jets separated by a very small angle. Under Earth gravity, the jets bounce off one another before breaking up. (The jets are likely separated by a thin film of air that gets entrained along the water surface.) In microgravity, though, the jets display much greater waviness and break down much quicker. This seems to indicate a significant gravitational effect to the Plateau-Rayleigh instability that governs the jet’s breakup into droplets. (Video credit: F. Sunol and R. Gonzalez-Cinca)