Nestling Droplets

Pay attention after a rainfall, and you may notice beads of water gathering in the corners of a spider’s web or along the leaves of a cypress tree (bottom right). Look closely and you’ll notice that the largest droplets don’t form along a straight fiber. Instead they nestle into the corners of a bent fiber (top image). Researchers recently characterized this corner mechanism and found that the angle at which the largest droplets form is about 36 degrees. This angle provides the optimal conditions for capillary action and surface tension to hold large drops in place. At smaller angles, a growing droplet’s weight pulls it down until the thin film holding the droplet near the top ruptures and the droplet falls. At larger angles, a heavy droplet will slowly detach from one side of its fiber and shift toward the other side until its weight is too great for the wetted length of fiber to hold. Then it detaches completely and falls. (Research and image credit: Z. Pan et al.; via T. Truscott)

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