The Vortex Under a Falling Drop

We take for granted that drops which impact a solid surface will splash, but, in fact, drops only splash when the surrounding air pressure is high enough. When the air pressure is low enough, drops simply impact and spread, regardless of the fluid, drop height, or surface roughness. Why this is and what role the surrounding air plays remains unclear. Here researchers visualize the air flow around a droplet impact. In (a) we see the approaching drop and the air it pulls with it. Upon impact in (b) and © the drop spreads and flattens while a crown of air rises in its wake. The drop’s spread initiates a vortex ring that is pinned to the drop’s edge. In later times (d)-(f) the vortex ring detaches from the drop and rolls up. (Photo credit: I. Bischofberger et al.)

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