Mixing the Immiscible

Abstract image showing an emulsion of liquids that do not mix.

Immiscible liquids — like oil and water — do not combine easily. Typically, with enough effort, you can create an emulsion — a mixture formed from droplets of one liquid suspended in the other — like the one above. But a team of researchers have taken mixing immiscible liquids to a new level using their Vortex Fluid Device (VFD).

Longtime readers may remember the group from their Ig-Nobel-winning demonstration of unboiling an egg, but this time the team is used the VFD to mix and de-mix immiscible liquids. As shown in the video below, the VFD is essentially a fast-spinning tube tilted at a 45-degree angle. As it spins, the liquids inside are forced into thin films with very high shear rates — high enough that immiscible liquids like water and toluene are forced together without forming an emulsion. Essentially, the mechanical forces mixing the liquids are strong enough to overcome the chemistry that typically keeps them apart.

Impressively, the device manages this without using harsh surfactants or catalysts that other methods rely on. As a result, the technique offers a greener method for mixing chemicals for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food processing, and more. (Image credit: pisauikan; research credit: M. Jellicoe et al.; video credit: Flinders University; submitted by Marc A.)

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