While we’re most used to seeing levitating Leidenfrost droplets on a solid surface, such drops can also form above a liquid bath. In fact, the smoothness of the bath’s surface, combined with mechanisms discussed in a new study, means that drops will levitate at a cooler temperature over a liquid than they will over a solid surface.
Researchers found that a donut-shaped vortex forms in the bath beneath a levitating droplet, but the direction of the vortex’s circulation is not always the same. For some liquids, the flow moves radially outward from beneath the drop. In this case, researchers found that the dominant force was shear stress caused by the vapor escaping from under the droplet.
With other droplet liquids, the flow direction instead moved inward, forming a sinking plume beneath the center of the drop. In this situation, researchers found that evaporative cooling dominated. As the liquid beneath the droplet cooled, it became denser and sank. At the same time, the lower temperature changed the bath’s local surface tension, creating the inward surface flow through the Marangoni effect. (Image credit: F. Cavagnon; research credit: B. Sobac et al.)