Research

Contaminants Flowing Uphill

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Here’s an example of some baffling fluid dynamics. Researchers have found that, when pouring a fluid from one container into a lower one containing a fluid with floating particulates, it’s possible for the floating particles to travel upstream against gravity and the flow. The phenomenon is driven by surface tension. The particulates floating in the lower container decrease the fluid’s surface tension relative to the pure fluid pouring in from above. This creates a gradient in surface tension that, via the Marangoni effect, drives a small flow upstream, in the direction of the greater surface tension. In the video above, this flow takes the form of two recirculating vortices in the pouring channel, oriented such that their upstream velocities run along the outside of the channel. Occasionally this flow draws particulates up the waterfall and into the recirculating zones, creating upstream contamination. We reported this previously, but the researchers have now released videos demonstrating the effect, including in pipettes and a water flume. Usually it’s taken for granted that matter cannot move upstream, so this could be a game-changer, especially at small scales where surface tension already dominates. For more, see their paper. (Video credit: S. Bianchini et al.)

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