Elastic Walls and Viscous Fingers

The Saffman-Taylor instability, characterized by the branchlike fingers formed when a less viscous fluid is injected into a more viscous one, is typically demonstrated between two rigid walls, as in part (a) of the figure above. But what happens if one of the rigid walls forming the Hele-Shaw cell is replaced with an elastic wall? This is the case for (b) and (c) in the figure. The flexibility of the wall causes the expansion of the air-fluid interface to slow down relative to the rigid wall case and causes the interface to move toward a narrowing fluid-filled gap (as opposed to a constant thickness one). Both of these effects reduce the viscous instability mechanism that drives the fingering instability. With a high enough mass flow rate as in ©, there is still some instability in the interface, but it is dramatically reduced. (Photo credit: D. Pihler-Puzovic et al.)

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