Avoiding Shear Thickening

Many substances – like the cornstarch and water mixture above – exhibit a property called shear-thickening. In these fluids, deforming them quickly causes the viscosity to increase dramatically. That shear-thickening occurs when particles inside the fluid jam together, creating large chains able to resist the force being applied. That’s why the oobleck on this vibrating speaker can sustain these “cornstarch monsters”.

Shear-thickening is useful in many contexts, but it’s problematic during manufacturing, when pumping these substances can become incredibly difficult due to the fluid’s innate resistance to flowing. A new study, though, finds that it’s possible to temporarily suppress shear-thickening using acoustic waves. The researchers used piezoelectric devices to generate acoustic waves at a frequency around 1 MHz while shearing the cornstarch mixture. The acoustic waves disrupt the formation of particle chains inside the mixture, keeping its viscosity 10 times lower than during regular shear-thickening. (Image credit: bendhoward, source; research credit: P. Sehgal et al.; submitted by Brian K.)

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