Research

Using Paper to Avoid Splashback

A sphere falling through a piece of paper and into a pool creates little splashback

Daily life and countless pool parties have taught us all that objects falling into water create a splash. Sometimes that splash is undesirable, and while there are many ways to tune a splash – by adding surfactants or changing the fluid’s viscosity – there’s a relatively common one that’s escaped scientific study until now. Researchers looked at how splashes change when you add a thin, penetrable fabric – commonly known as toilet paper – to the water surface. 

Now, the common assumption is that adding a sheet of toilet paper can prevent splashback, but the story is not quite that simple. On the left, you see a splash generated without toilet paper. Because the ball is hydrophilic (water-loving), it does not pull any air into a cavity as it passes. There’s a nice axisymmetric Worthington jet formed, and it doesn’t splash very high, although some of the satellite droplets go quite a bit higher.

On the right, we see a splash with a single sheet of toilet paper. In this case, the impact of the sphere penetrates the paper, and the way the paper deforms causes air to get sucked down into a cavity behind the ball. That creates a wider, amorphous jet that rebounds higher than the jet in clean water, though it does not shed satellite drops. 

The researchers found that single and even double sheets of toilet paper can actually increase the height of the splash jet if the object penetrates them. The hole the object makes actually helps focus the jet. Adding a couple more layers, though, can eliminate splashing completely. (Image and research credit: D. Watson et al.)

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