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New theory of nanojet breakup

Image courtesy of Chengxi Zhao (Warwick).

Rapid Communication in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics (on Front Cover) and featuring in Physics Today.

The classical Rayleigh-Plateau instability describes how liquid cylinders break into drops; a natural occurrence which we see daily, e.g. when water jets from a shower head break into drops.  However, our experiments using molecular dynamics (MD) show this theory fails at the nanoscale.

Molecular simulation of the breakup of a nanoscale liquid cylinder, courtesy of Chengxi Zhao (Warwick).

To update the 19th century theory of Rayleigh and Plateau for application at the nanoscale, we had to account for thermal fluctuations within the thread that create nanoscale waves and amplify the classical instability.

Remarkably, at the nanoscale, even classically stable ‘fat’ cylinders become unstable if one waits long enough for the ‘perfect storm’ of fluctuations.


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