Research

Fingering Under Elastic

Take a couple panes of glass and stick a viscous fluid in between them; you’ve now constructed what fluid dynamicists call a Hele-Shaw cell. If you inject a low-viscosity fluid, like air, into the cell, you’ll get a beautiful finger-like pattern like the one shown on the left. If you change one of the walls to an elastic sheet, though, things get a bit different. The flexibility of the wall allows the upper surface to inflate as air gets pushed in. This can suppress the usual viscous fingers, as seen in the center animation. However, if you push the air in quickly, as in the right animation, the sudden inflation can wrinkle the elastic sheet. In this case, the wrinkles are the dominant influence, causing the the fluid to finger – but in an entirely different way than before! (Image credit: D. Pihler-Puzovic et al., sources 1, 2, 3; see also)

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