Triple Leidenfrost Effect

Two dissimilar drops bounce instead of coalescing, due to a Leidenfrost vapor layer between them.

Droplets can skitter across a hot surface on a layer of their own vapor, thanks to the Leidenfrost effect. If two Leidenfrost droplets of the same liquid collide, they merge immediately. But that doesn’t always happen with two dissimilar liquids. A new study looks at how dissimilar Leidenfrost droplets collide. The researchers found that these drops can bounce off one another repeatedly before their eventual merger (Image 1).

Just as a vapor layer prevents the drops from touching the hot plate, a vapor layer forms between them when they collide, preventing contact (Image 2). Because of these three distinct areas of Leidenfrost vapor (one beneath each drop and one between the drops), the researchers call this the triple Leidenfrost effect.

Eventually, the more volatile (in other words, easily evaporated) drop shrinks to a size similar to its capillary length, at which point the drops merge. If the boiling points of the two liquids are vastly different, the merger can be explosive (Image 3). (Image and research credit: F. Pacheco-Vázquez et al.; via APS Physics)

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