marangoni effect

Ink drops atop a layer of glycerol spread in a beautiful fan of blue and white. The ink’s motion is the result of two processes: molecular diffusion and the Marangoni effect. Molecular diffusion is the mixing that occurs due to the random background motion of molecules. Since glycerol is a very viscous liquid, the ink is quite slow to spread in this manner. 

The second factor, the Marangoni effect, is driven by differences in surface tension. The ink and glycerol have different surface tensions, and the exact values depend on concentration. Notice how the ink drops spread fastest from areas where the ink is densely concentrated. This tells us that the ink’s surface tension is lower than the glycerol’s. As a result, the glycerol’s higher surface tension tends to pull ink toward it. As the ink spreads and its concentration decreases relative to the glycerol, the ink-glycerol mixture’s surface tension increases. Since the difference between the surface tension of the mixture and the pure glycerol is not as large, the Marangoni force is reduced and the spreading slows. (Image credit: C. Kalelkar, source)

As fragile as a soap bubble seems, these films have remarkable powers of self-healing. The animation above shows a falling water droplet passing through a soap film without bursting it. An important factor here is that the water droplet is wet–passing a dry object through a soap film is a quick way to burst it, as those who have played with bubbles know. The droplet’s inertia deforms the soap film, creating a cavity. If the drop’s momentum were smaller, the film could actually bounce the droplet back like a trampoline, but here the droplet wins out. The film breaks enough to let the drop through, but its cavity quickly pinches off and the film heals thanks to the stabilizing effect of its soapy surfactants. (Image credit: H. Kim, source)


The brilliant colors of a soap film reveal the fluid’s thickness, thanks to a process known as thin film interference. The twisting flow of the film depends on many influences: gravity pulls down on the liquid and tends to make it drain away; evaporation steals fluid from the film; local air currents can push or pull the film; and the variation in the concentration of molecules – specifically the surfactants that stabilize the film – will change the local surface tension, causing flow via the Marangoni effect. Together these and other effects create the dancing turbulence captured above. (Video credit: A. Filipowicz)


This fantastic music video by Kim Pimmel is a beautiful merger of art and fluid dynamics. Using household goods (and some slightly more exotic ferrofluid), the video shows how mesmerizing diffusion, buoyancy, Marangoni flow, and other fluid effects can be up close. It may also be the first time I’ve ever seen fluid dynamics–specifically bubbles–used as characters! Also be sure to check out some of his previous videos, many of which also feature cool fluid dynamics. (Video credit and submission: K. Pimmel)


It’s only fitting to take a moment to look back at 2014 as we step into the New Year. It was a big year in many respects - we hit 1000 posts and broke 200,000 followers; I started producing FYFD videos on our YouTube channel; and, on a personal note, I finished up my PhD. But since we’re all about the science around here, I will give you, without further ado, the top 10 FYFD posts of 2014:

1. Bioluminescent crustaceans use light for defense
2. What happens when you step on lava
3. Flapping flight deconstructed
4. Wingtip vortices demonstrated
5. Saturn’s auroras
6. Raindrops’ impact on sand
7. Water spheres in microgravity
8. The surreal undulatus asperatus cloud
9. Inside a plunging breaker
10. A simply DIY Marangoni effect demo

I can’t help but notice that 9 out of the 10 posts feature animated GIFs. Oh, Tumblr, you rascals. Happy New Year! (Image credits: BBC; A. Rivest; E. Lutz; Nat. Geo/BBC2; ESA/Hubble; R. Zhao et al.; D. Petit; A. Schueth; B. Kueny and J. Florence; Flow Visualization at UC Boulder)


The seemingly-alive dancing droplets are back in a new video from Veritasium. These droplets of food coloring attract, merge, and chase one another due to evaporation and surface tension interactions between their two components: water and propylene glycol. Because the droplets are constantly evaporating, they are surrounded by a cloud of vapor that helps determine a drop’s surface tension. These localized differences in surface tension are what causes the drops to attract. The chasing is also surface-tension-driven. Like any liquid, the drops will flow from areas of low surface tension to those of higher surface tension due to the Marangoni effect. Thus drops of different concentration appear to chase one another. This is a relatively simple experiment to try yourself at home, and Derek outlines what you need to know for it.  (Video credit: Veritasium; research credit: N. Cira et al.; submitted by @g_durey)

Watch on

Have a little science enthusiasm from Bill Nye to brighten your Tuesday! This video includes demonstrations on thermodynamics (sucking the balloon into the flask), the Marangoni effect (driving the powder off the water surface and powering the glue boat by creating gradients in surface tension), and buoyancy (floating cans of cola).