If you sandwich a viscous fluid between two plates, then pull the plates apart, you’ll often get a complex branching pattern that forms as air pushes its way into the fluid. But the exact results depend strongly on what kind of viscous fluid you used. A new study looks specifically at what happens when that fluid is a yield-stress gel.
Yield-stress fluids behave like a solid until a critical amount of force causes them to flow. Think about your toothpaste. When you take the cap off, the toothpaste stays put until you squeeze the tube enough to make it flow. The gels used in this experiment behave similarly.
The researchers found that their gels required a critical energy input in order to branch and flow. If the energy applied in pulling the plates apart was too low, no branching occurred (Image 1). But beyond that critical energy, separating the plates created intricate branching patterns consistent with those seen in simpler, Newtonian fluids. (Image, research, and submission credit: T. Divoux et al.; via APS)