Air Pressure Affects Splashes

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When a drop falls on a dry surface, our intuition tells us it will splash, breaking up into many smaller droplets. Yet this is not always the case. The splashing of a droplet depends on many factors, including surface roughness, viscosity, drop size, and–strangely enough–air pressure. It turns out there is a threshold air pressure below which splashing is suppressed. Instead, a drop will spread and flatten without breaking up, as shown in the video above. For contrast, here is the same fluid splashing at atmospheric pressure. This splash suppression at low pressures is observed for both low and high viscosity fluids. Although the mechanism by which gases affect splashing is still under investigation, measurements show that no significant air layer exists under the spreading droplet except near the very edges. This suggests that the splash mechanism depends on how the spreading liquid encroaches on the surrounding gas. (Video credit: S. Nagel et al.; research credit: M. Driscoll et al.)

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