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.)