For the right flow speeds and incidence angles, a jet of Newtonian fluid can bounce off the surface of a bath of the same fluid. This is shown in the photo above with a laser incorporated in the jet to show its integrity throughout the bounce. The walls of the jet direct the laser much the way an optical fiber does. The jet stays separated from the bath by a thin layer of air, which is constantly replenished by the air being entrained by the flowing jet. The rebound is a result of the surface tension of the bath providing force for the bounce. (Photo credit: T. Lockhart et al.)
To the human eye, the burst of a soap bubble appears complete and instantaneous, but high-speed video reveals the directionality of the process. Surface tension is responsible for the spherical shape of the bubble, and, when the bubble is pierced, surface tension is broken, causing the soap film that was the bubble to contract like elastic that’s been stretched and released. Droplets of liquid fly out from the edges of the sheet until it atomizes completely.
Stuck here on Earth, it’s hard to know sometimes how greatly gravity affects the behavior of fluids. Fortunately, astronaut Don Pettit enjoys spending his free time on the International Space Station playing with physics. In his latest video, he shows some awesome examples of what is possible with a thin film of water—not a soap film like we make here on Earth—in microgravity. He demonstrates vibrational modes, droplet collision and coalescence, and some fascinating examples of Marangoni convection.
The splashes from droplets impacting jets create truly mesmerizing liquid sculptures. Corrie White is one of the masters of this type of high-speed macro photography. Her work captures the instantaneous battles between viscosity, surface tension, and inertia. The fantastic structure seen here through the falling droplets is created by a series of drops timed so that the later ones strike the Worthington jet produced by the initial drop’s impact. (Photo credit: Corrie White)