The Gobbling Drop

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A little polymer goes a long way when it comes to changing a fluid’s behavior. Normally, a falling jet of fluid will develop waviness and be driven by surface tension and the Plateau-Rayleigh instability to break up into a stream of droplets. We see this at our water faucets all the time. But when traces of a polymer are dissolved in water, the behavior is much different. The viscoelasticity of the polymer chains creates a force that opposes the thinning effects caused by surface tension. So, instead of thinning to the point of breaking into droplets, a drop is able to climb back up the jet until it reaches a critical mass where it reverses direction, accelerates downward due to gravity and eventually breaks off the jet. Then the whole process begins again with a new terminal drop. (Video credit: C. Clasen et al)

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