One of the great challenges in visualizing fluid flows is the freedom of movement. A fluid particle – meaning some tiny little bit of fluid we want to follow – is generally free to move in any direction and even change its shape (but not mass). This makes tracking all of those changes difficult, and it’s part of why there are so many different techniques for flow visualization. The technique an experimenter uses depends on the information they hope to get.
Often a researcher may want to know about fluid velocity in two or more directions, which can require multiple camera angles and more than one laser sheet illuminating the flow. An alternative to such a set-up is shown above. The injected fluid – known as a rheoscopic fluid – contains microscopic reflective particles, in this case mica, that are asymmetric in shape. Imagine a tiny rod, for example. By illuminating the rod from different directions with different colors of light, you can determine the particle’s orientation based on the color it reflects. Since the orientation of the particle depends on the surrounding flow, you can infer how the flow moves. (Image credit and submission: J. C. Straccia; research link: V. Bezuglyy et al.)
If you’ve ever popped open a chilled bottle of champagne, you’ve probably witnessed the gray-white cloud of mist that forms as the cork flies. Opening the bottle releases a spurt of high-pressure carbon dioxide gas, although that’s not what you see in the cloud. The cloud consists of water droplets from the ambient air, driven to condense by a sudden drop in temperature caused by the expansion of the escaping carbon dioxide. Scientifically speaking, this is known as adiabatic expansion; when a gas expands in volume, it drops in temperature. This is why cans of compressed air feel cold after you’ve released a few bursts of air.
If your champagne bottle is cold (a) or cool (b), the gray-white water droplet cloud is what you see. But if your champagne is near room temperature ( c ), something very different happens: a blue fog forms inside the bottle and shoots out behind the cork. To understand why, we have to consider what’s going on in the bottle before and after the cork pops.
A room temperature bottle of champagne is at substantially higher pressure than one that’s chilled. That means that opening the bottle makes the gas inside undergo a bigger drop in pressure, which, in turn, means stronger adiabatic expansion. Counterintuitively, the gas escaping the warm champagne actually gets colder than the gas escaping the chilled champagne because there’s a bigger pressure drop driving it. That whoosh of carbon dioxide is cold enough, in fact, for some of the gas to freeze in that rushed escape. The blue fog is the result of tiny dry ice crystals scattering light inside the bottleneck.
That flash of blue is only momentary, though, and the extra drop in temperature won’t cool your champagne at all. Liquids retain heat better than gases do. For more, on champagne physics check out these previous posts. (Image and research credit: G. Liger-Belair et al.; submitted by David H.)
Building microfluidic circuits is generally a multi-day process, requiring a clean room and specialized manufacturing equipment. A new study suggests a quicker alternative using fluid walls to define the circuit instead of solid ones. The authors refer to their technique as “Freestyle Fluidics”. As seen above, the shape of the circuit is printed in the operating fluid, then covered by a layer of immiscible, transparent fluid. This outer layer help prevent evaporation. Underneath, the circuit holds its shape due to interfacial forces pinning it in place. Those same forces can be used to passively drive flow in the circuit, as shown in the lower animation, where fluid is pumped from one droplet to the other by pressure differences due to curvature. Changing the width of connecting channels can also direct flow in the circuits. This technique offers better biocompatibility than conventional microfluidic circuits, and the authors hope that this, along with simplified manufacturing, will help the technique spread. (Image and research credit: E. Walsh et al., source)
Surface tension is the result of an imbalance between intermolecular forces near an interface. Imagine a water molecule far from the surface; it is surrounded on all sides by other water molecules and feels each of those pulling on it. Since all the nearby molecules are water, the tugs from every direction balance and there is no net force. Now imagine that water molecule near the air interface. Instead of being influenced on all sides by water, our molecule now feels water in some directions and air molecules in another. The water molecules tug harder on it than air, leaving a net force that pulls along the interface. This is surface tension, and, for a liquid-gas interface, it behaves somewhat like an elastic sheet. Surface tension is even strong enough to let a jet of soap solution bounce repeatedly off a soap film. Each bounce deforms the interface, like a trampoline dimpling when someone jumps on it, but surface tension keeps the interface taut enough for the jet to skip off without breaking it. (Image credit: C. Kalelkar and S. Phansalkar, source)
Everyone has watched a flag flutter in the breeze, but you may not have given much thought to it. One of the earliest scientists to consider the problem was Lord Rayleigh, who wrote an aside on the mathematics of an infinite flag flapping in a paper on jets (pdf). Today researchers consider the problem in terms of fluid-solid interaction; in other words, to study a fluttering flag, you must consider both the properties of the flag – its flexibility, length, elasticity, and so on – and the properties of the fluid – air speed, viscosity, etc. The combination of these factors governs the complicated shapes taken on by a flag. The image above is a composite of several photos of a string (a 1-d flag) flapping in a flow that moves from left to right. By combining photos, the image highlights the envelope of shapes the flag takes and demonstrates at a glance just how far the flag flutters in either direction along its length. (Image credit: C. Eloy)
If you inject a less viscous fluid, like air, into a narrow gap between two glass plates filled with a more viscous fluid, you’ll get a finger-like instability known as the Saffman-Taylor instability. If you invert the situation – injecting something viscous like water into air – the water will simply expand radially; you’ll get no fingers. But that situation doesn’t hold if there are wettable particles in the air-filled gap. Inject water into a particle-strewn air gap and you get a pattern like the one above. In this case, as the water expands, it collects particles on the meniscus between it and the air. Once the concentration of particles on the meniscus is too high for more particles to fit there, the flow starts to branch into fingers. This creates a greater surface area for interface so that more particles can get swept up as the water expands. (Image and research credit: I. Bihi et al., source)
This polygonal pattern is known as the rose-window instability. It’s formed between two electrodes – one a needle-like point, the other flat – separated by a layer of oil. The pointed electrode’s voltage ionizes the air nearby, creating a stream of ions that travel toward the flat electrode below. Oil is a poor conductor, however, so the ions build up on its surface until they’re concentrated enough to form a dimple that lets them reach the lower electrode. At higher voltages, the electrical forces driving the ions and the gravitational force trying to flatten the oil reach a balance in the form of the polygonal cell pattern seen above. Smaller cells form near the needle electrode, where the electrical field is strongest and the temperature is highest, as revealed in thermal and schlieren imaging (lower images) that shows a warm stream of gas impacting there.
As a final note, I’ll add that the latest in this research comes from a paper by a Pakastani teenager. It’s never too early to start contributing to research! (Image and research credit: M. Niazi; via NYTimes; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)
Have you ever wondered just how detergents are able to get grease and oil off a surface? This simple example demonstrates one method. In the top image, a drop of oil sits attached to a solid surface; both are immersed in water. An eyedropper injects a surfactant chemical near the oil drop. This lowers the surface tension of the surrounding water and allows the mixture to better wet the solid. That eats away at the oil drop’s contact with the surface. It takes awhile – the middle animation is drastically sped up – but the oil droplet maintains less and less contact with the surface as the surfactant works. Eventually, in the bottom image, most of the oil drop detaches from the surface and floats away. (Image credits: C. Kalelkar and A. Sahni, source)
Sunlight reflecting off the Earth can reveal a remarkably rich picture of our planet’s activity. The silver-gray areas seen in this satellite image are sunglint, where lots of light is reflected back to space. Sunglint occurs in regions with very few waves; more waves – like in the bluer areas – mean more directions in which light can be scattered. The reason for these rough and smooth waters is atmospheric: the prevailing summer winds blow across the Aegean from the north. In open water, that wind drives up the waves, but rocky islands disrupt the flow, leaving “wind shadows” on their southern, leeward sides where the waves are smaller. (Image credit: J. Schmaltz; via NASA Earth Observatory)
Watch your hot cup of coffee or tea carefully, and you may notice a white mist of tiny micron-sized droplets hovering near the surface. These microdroplets are a little understood part of evaporation. They form over a heated liquid, levitating on vapor that diffuses out from them and reflects off the liquid surface. (This is similar to the Leidenfrost effect, but the authors note it occurs at much lower temperatures. Unrelated research has suggested the Leidenfrost effect can occur at lower temperatures when there is very little surface roughness.)
One of the particularly peculiar behaviors of these tiny levitating microdroplets is that they can exist over dry surfaces as well. The image above shows microdroplets migrating from a liquid surface (right) to a dry surface (center and left). When the droplets near the contact line, they encounter a strong upward flow due to increased evaporation there. This launches the droplets upward and they sail to the dry area. There, their vapor layers continue creating levitation and provide a cushion between them and their neighbors, causing the drops to self-organize into arrays. (Image credit: D. Zaitsev et al.; via Physics World; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)