Flowing Through Tight Spaces

Fluid flow through porous media inside confined spaces can be tough to predict but is key to many geological and industrial processes. Here researchers examine a mixture of glass beads and water-glycerol trapped between two slightly tilted plates. As liquid is drained from the bottom of the cell, air intrudes. Loose grains pile up along the meniscus and get slowly bulldozed as the air continues forcing its way in. The result is a labyrinthine maze formed by air fingers of a characteristic width. The final pattern depends on a competition between hydrostatic pressure and the frictional forces between grains. Despite the visual similarity to phenomena like the Saffman-Taylor instability, the authors found that viscosity does not play a major role. For more, check out the video abstract here. (Image and research credit: J. Erikson et al., source)

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