Contact-Line Dissipation

Illustration of the experimental set-up, showing a capillary tube filled with air (clear), oil (orange), and water (blue) as it fills at a constant rate.

In the confines of a narrow tube, a flow’s energy gets dissipated in two places: inside the bulk fluid and along the contact line. The former is standard for all flows; viscosity acts like internal friction in the fluid and dissipates a flow’s kinetic energy into heat. Contact line dissipation is trickier. While it isn’t hard to imagine that a moving contact line would dissipate energy, it’s been unclear just how much energy the contact line eats up.

To answer that question, researchers performed a novel experiment using an extremely narrow capillary tube, initially filled with air. By dipping one end of a horizontal tube in an oil reservoir, they sucked some oil into the tube. Then they set the oil-filled end of the tube against a water reservoir, causing it to suck up water. The oil slug then moves along the tube at a constant speed, which enables the team to separate out the two sources of dissipation. They found that contact-line dissipation accounted for a surprisingly large amount of the overall dissipation — between 20 and 50 percent, depending on the length of the oil slug! (Image credit: N. Sharp; research credit and submission: B. Primkulov et al.)

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