Capsule Impact and Bursting

A montage of water balloons falling and deforming.

Nature and industry are full of elastic membranes filled with a fluid, from red blood cells to water balloons. A new study looks at how these capsules deform — and sometimes burst — on impact. The researchers created custom elastic shells that they filled with various fluids like water, glycerol, and honey, then used the impacts to build a model of capsule deformation.

They found that there’s significant overlap between droplet impacts and capsule impacts, with a few key differences; instead of surface tension, capsules resist deformation through their elastic shell’s surface modulus — a combination of its elasticity and thickness. Capsules, unlike droplets, can also burst. To study this, the researchers used water balloons, which they were able to pre-stretch more easily than their custom shells. They found that their model could accurately predict the conditions under which the balloons burst.

The authors hope the model will be helpful both in designing capsules intended to burst — like a fire-fighting projectile — and in creating safety measures to prevent capsule burst — like car-crash standards that protect from organ damage. (Image and research credit: E. Jambon-Puillet et al.; via Physics World; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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