Research

What’s in a Splash?

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A droplet falling onto a solid, dry surface seems like a simple situation, one that would be easy to understand. But splashes can be unpredictable. Velocity, viscosity, and surface tension all play clear roles, but the surrounding air also has an impact – drop the air pressure low enough and a droplet won’t splash. A new paper has tackled the problem, producing a mathematical model in agreement with experimental results. So why do some drops splash and others don’t? When a drop falls, its momentum flattens it into a pancake shape while surface tension struggles to hold it together. The spreading edge, called the lamella, can pull away from the surface. When it does, a pocket of high pressure forms beneath it due to lubrication effects, and the faster airflow over the top of the lamella creates a suction effect. This is analogous to a wing producing lift. Like the momentum that spread the droplet, the lift force pulls the lamella and ejecta sheet further up and outward, overcoming the restoring force of surface tension and tearing the droplet apart. For more on the effect, check out the research paper or this Inside Science article.  (Video credit: G. Riboux and J. Gordillo; via Inside Science)

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