What goes on when droplets merge is tough to observe, even with a high-speed camera. There are many factors at play: any momentum in the droplets, surface tension, gravity, and Marangoni forces, to name a few. A new study that simultaneously records multiple views of coalescence is shedding some light on these dynamics.
The results are particularly interesting for droplets that are somewhat physically separated so that they only coalesce after one drop impacts near the other. In this situation, with droplets of equal surface tension, researchers observed a jet that forms after impact (Image 1) and runs along the top surface of the coalescing drops (Image 2). That location is a strong indication that the jet is created by surface tension and not other forces.
To test that further, the researchers repeated the experiment but with droplets of unequal surface tension. They found that when the undyed droplet’s surface tension was higher (Image 3), Marangoni forces enhanced the surface jet, as one would expect for a surface-tension-driven phenomenon. But if the dyed droplet had the higher surface tension (Image 4), it was possible to completely suppress the jet’s formation. (Image, research, and submission credit: T. Sykes et al., arXiv)