Viscoelastic Fluids in Space

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In honor of astronaut Don Pettit’s launch to the International Space Station (and in the hope that he’ll do more neat microgravity fluids demonstrations while in space!), here’s a look a the behavior of viscoelastic fluids in microgravity. The elasticity of these fluids means that, when strained, the fluid deforms instantaneously and then returns to its initial shape when the strain is removed. Pettit demonstrates both Plateau-Rayleigh instability behavior, where a column of fluid breaks apart due to surface tension variations, and die swell, where a fluid jet expands beyond the diameter of nozzle from which it was extruded. Such swelling is commonly caused by the stretching and relaxation of polymers in the fluid as they react to forces caused by the nozzle opening.

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