From Dripping to Beading

When water drips, it quickly breaks up into a string of smaller droplets due to a surface-tension-driven instability called the Plateau-Rayleigh instability. But adding just a tiny bit of polymer to the fluid changes the behavior entirely. Instead of breaking into droplets, a narrow filament dotted with tiny satellite droplets forms between the larger drops. This is known as the beads-on-a-string instability. The viscoelasticity the polymers add is one key to seeing this behavior. Polymers consist of large molecule chains that, when stretched, act a little like rubber bands–they pull back against the stretch, providing an elastic effect. Without this elasticity, the tiny filament connecting the drops would break up immediately. (Image credit: M. Berman, source; research credit: P. Bhat et al.)

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