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UK: Physics Understanding Drop Collision Could Advance Emerging Technologies

| Editor: Alexander Stark

Drop collision is integral to technology such as 3D printing and spray cooling of next-generation electronics. A discovery by researchers at the University of Warwick allows to make the design and engineering of future droplet technologies more precise and efficient.

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Drops can behave differently after the point of collision, some make a splash, some coat the surface cleanly, and some can even bounce like a beach ball.
Drops can behave differently after the point of collision, some make a splash, some coat the surface cleanly, and some can even bounce like a beach ball.
(Source: University of Warwick )

Warwick/UK — Collisions between liquid drops and surfaces, or other drops, happen all the time. For example, small water drops in clouds collide with each other to form larger drops, which can eventually fall and impact on a solid, like your car windscreen.

Drops can behave differently after the point of collision, some make a splash, some coat the surface cleanly, and some can even bounce like a beach ball. In the article, published in Physical Review Letters, researchers from the University of Warwick have found an explanation for experimental observations that some droplets bounce.

Remarkably, the fate of the drop is determined by the behaviour of a tiny cushion of air whose height can reach the scale of nanometres. To get a sense of scale, think of something the size of the moon bouncing from a garden trampoline.

Even if the surface is perfectly smooth, like in laboratory conditions, an affinity between drop molecules and the wall molecules (known as van der Waals attraction), will mean that in most cases the drop will be pinched down onto the surface, preventing it from bouncing.

The research reveals, through highly detailed numerical simulations, that for a droplet to bounce the speed of collision must be just right. Too fast, and the momentum of the drop flattens the air cushion too thinly. Too slow, and it gives the van der Waals attraction time to take hold. At the perfect speed, though, the drop can perform a clean bounce, like a high jumper just clearing the bar.

According to Professor Duncan Lockerby from the School of Engineering at the University of Warwick, drop collision is integral to technology we rely upon today, for example, in inkjet printing and internal combustion engines. Understanding better what happens to colliding droplets could also help the development of emerging technologies, such as 3D printing in metal, as their accuracy and efficiency will ultimately depend on what happens to drops post collision.

References: The paper ‘Bouncing off the walls: the influence of gas-kinetic and van der Waals effects in drop impact’ has been published in Physical Review Letters and is available to view at: https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.084501

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