Artist Corrie White uses dyes and droplets to capture fantastical liquid sculptures at high-speed. The mushroom-like upper half of this photo is formed when the rebounding jet from one droplet’s impact on the water is hit by a well-timed second droplet, creating the splash’s umbrella. In the lower half of the picture, we see the remains of previous droplets, mixing and diffusing into the water via the Rayleigh-Taylor instability caused by their slight difference in density relative to the water. There’s also a hint of a vortex ring, likely from the droplet that caused the rebounding jet. (Photo credit: Corrie White)


Watching rain drops hit a puddle or lake is remarkably fascinating. Each drop creates a little cavity in the water surface when it impacts. Large, energetic drops will create a crown-shaped splash, like the ones in the upper animation. When the cavity below the surface collapses, the water rebounds into a pillar known as a Worthington jet. Look carefully and you’ll see some of those jets are energetic enough to produce a little satellite droplet that falls back and coalesces. Altogether it’s a beautifully complex process to watch happen over and over again. (Image credit: K. Weiner, source)


Help us do some science! I’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to create a survey of FYFD readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve FYFD and contributing to novel academic research on the readers of science blogs. It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here.


Water droplet art celebrates the infinite forms created from the impact of drops with a pool and rebounding jets. It’s a still life captured from split second interactions between inertia, momentum, and surface tension. These examples from photographer Markus Reugels are among some of the most complex shapes I’ve seen captured. Be sure to check out his website for more beautiful examples of liquids frozen in time. (Photo credits: Markus Reugels; via Photigy)

In the collage above, successive frames showing the bouncing and break-up of liquid droplets impacting a solid inclined surface coated with a thin layer of high-viscosity fluid have been superposed. This allows one to see the trajectory and deformation of the original droplet as well as its daughter droplets. The impacts vary by Weber number, a dimensionless parameter used to compare the effects of a droplet’s inertia to its surface tension. A larger Weber number indicates inertial dominance, and the Weber number increases from 1.7 in (a) to 15.3 in (d). In the case of (a), the impact of the droplet is such that the droplet does not merge with the layer of fluid on the surface, so the complete droplet rebounds. In cases (b)-(d), there is partial merger between the initial droplet and the fluid layer. The impact flattens the original droplet into a pancake-like layer, which rebounds in a Worthington jet before ejecting several smaller droplets. For more, see Gilet and Bush 2012. (Photo credit: T. Gilet and J. W. M. Bush)


Underwater explosions often behave non-intuitively. Here researchers explore the effects of surface explosions by setting off charges at the air/water interface. Initially, an unconfined explosion’s blast wave expands a cavity radially into the water. This cavity collapses back toward the surface from the bottom up, ultimately resulting in a free jet that rebounds above the water level. Confined explosions behave very differently, expanding down the glass tube containing them in a one-dimensional fashion. The cavity never extends beyond the end of the glass tube, likely due to hydrostatic pressure. (Video credit: Adrien Benusiglio, David Quéré, Christophe Clanet)

Droplet collisions captured instantaneously create beautiful fluid sculptures that, though common, are too fast for the human eye. Here a bubble was blown onto the surface of the fluid, then a droplet was released to fall into the center of the bubble, bursting it. As that droplet rebounded in a Worthington jet, a second droplet was released and impacted the jet, creating the umbrella-like shape in the center. See Liquid Droplet Art for more photos. (Photo credit: Corrie White and Igor Kliakhandler) #


Reader ancientavian asks:

I’ve often noticed that, when water splashes (especially as with raindrops or other forms of spray), often it appears that small droplets of water skitter off on top of the larger surface before rejoining the main body. Is this an actual phenomenon, or an optical illusion? What causes it?

That’s a great observation, and it’s a real-world example of some of the physics we’ve talked about before. When a drop hits a pool, it rebounds in a little pillar called a Worthington jet and often ejects a smaller droplet. This droplet, thanks to its lower inertia, can bounce off the surface. If we slow things way down and look closely at that drop, we’ll see that it can even sit briefly on the surface before all the air beneath it drains away and it coalesces with the pool below. But that kind of coalescence cascade typically happens in microseconds, far too fast for the human eye. 

But it is possible outside the lab to find instances where this effect lasts long enough for the eye to catch. Take a look at this video. Here Destin of Smarter Every Day captures some great footage of water droplets skittering across a pool. They last long enough to be visible to the naked eye. What’s happening here is the same as the situation we described before, except that the water surface is essentially vibrating! The impacts of all the multitude of droplets create ripples that undulate the water’s surface continuously. As a result, air gets injected beneath the droplets and they skate along above the surface for longer than they would if the water were still. (Video credit: SuperSloMoVideos)


Water sculptures–a marriage of liquids, photography, and timing–are spectacular form of fluid dynamics as art. Artist Markus Reugels is a master of the form. This video captures the life and death of such water sculptures at 2,000 fps, beginning with the fall of the initial blue droplet. The droplet’s impact causes a rebounding Worthington jet, which reaches its pinnacle just as a second droplet strikes. The impact spreads into an umbrella-like skirt consisting of a thin, expanding liquid sheet with a thicker rim. The rim itself is unstable, breaking into regularly spaced filaments and tiny satellite droplets that shoot outward before the entire structure collapses into the pool. One especially cool aspect of watching this in video is seeing how the blue dye from each droplet spreads as the water splashes and rebounds. You can see the set-up Reugels uses for his photography here. (Video credit: M. Reugels and L. Lehner)


Today many a glass of champagne will be raised in honor of the end of one year and the beginning of a new. This French wine, known for its bubbly effervescence, is full of fascinating physics. During secondary fermentation of champagne, yeast in the wine consume sugars and excrete carbon dioxide gas, which dissolves in the liquid. Since the bottle containing the wine is corked, this increases the pressure inside the bottle, and this pressure is released when the cork is popped. Once champagne is in the glass, the dissolved carbon dioxide will form bubbles on flaws in the glass, which may be due to dust, scratches, or even intentional marks from manufacturing. These bubbles rise to the surface, expanding as they do so because the hydrodynamic pressure of the surrounding wine decreases with decreasing depth. At the surface, the bubbles burst, creating tiny crowns that collapse into Worthington jets, which can propel droplets upward to be felt by the drinker. For more on the physics of champagne, check out Gerard Liger-Belair’s book Uncorked: The Science of Champagne and/or Patrick Hunt’s analysis. Happy New Year! (Video credit: AFP/Gerard Liger-Belair)


As a droplet impacts a pool, it deforms the surface before rebounding in a Worthington jet and releasing secondary droplets as ejecta. Although we witness this act dozens of times a day, seeing it at 5,000 fps drastically alters one’s perspective.