Elastic Bounces

A rigid ball accelerated by a moving surface can only ever move as fast as the surface propelling it. But that’s not true for squishy objects like a water droplet. The composite image above shows the trajectory of a water droplet launched from a moving superhydrophobic surface. As the surface starts rising, it squishes the droplet like a pancake, triggering a deformation cycle where the droplet will squish and extend repeatedly. How quickly the drop changes shape depends on factors like its size and surface tension. The researchers found that a droplet’s launch was strongly affected by the ratio of the droplet’s shape-changing frequency and the frequency of the plate’s motion. When the drop’s shape changed three times faster than the surface’s motion, it would catapult off the surface with 250% of the kinetic energy of a rigid ball!

Launching elastic balls works the exact same way as droplets, indicating that the phenomenon depends on the way the projectiles deform. The process is similar to jumping on a trampoline. If a trampolinist times her jump just right, she’ll get more energy from the trampoline and fly higher. The droplet does the same when its deformation is properly tuned to its catapult. (Image credit: C. Raufaste et al.; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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