Mixing multiple fluids can often lead to surprising and mesmerizing effects, whether it’s droplets that dance or tears along the walls of a wine glass. A recent paper highlights another such mixture-driven instability – the bursting of a water-alcohol droplet deposited on an oil bath. The Lutetium Project tackles the physics behind this colorful burst in the short video above. The behavior is driven by the quick evaporation rate of alcohol in the droplet and the way this changing chemical concentration affects surface tension in the droplet. Alcohol evaporates more quickly from the edges of the drop, creating a region of higher surface tension around the edge. This pulls fluid to the rim of the drop, where it breaks up into droplets that get pulled outward as the inner drop shrinks.
The oil bath plays an important role in the instability, too. Without it, friction between the drop and a wall is too high for the droplet to “burst”. A thick layer of oil acts as a lubricant, allowing the escaping satellite drops to speed away. (Video and image credit: The Lutetium Project; research credit: L. Keiser et al.; submitted by G. Durey)