Researchers at Rice University, Purdue University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have solved a long-standing mystery about why some fluids containing polymers -- including saliva -- form beads when they are stretched and others do not.
The findings are published online this week in the journal Nature Physics.
Study co-author Matteo Pasquali, professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice, said the study answers fundamental scientific questions and could ultimately lead to improvements as diverse as ink-jet printing, nanomaterial fiber spinning and drug dispensers for "personalized medicine."
Co-author Osman Basaran, Purdue's Burton and Kathryn Gedge Professor of Chemical Engineering, said, "Any kindergartner is familiar with this beading phenomenon, which you can demonstrate by stretching a glob of saliva between your thumb and forefinger. The question is, 'Why does this beading take place only in some fluids containing polymers but not others?'"
Pasquali said, "In answering the question about why some fluids do this and others do not, we are addressing everyday processes that apply to fiber and droplet formation, not just in multibillion-dollar industrial plants but also in fluids produced in living cells."
Saliva and other complex "viscoelastic" fluids like shaving cream and shampoo contain long molecules called polymers. When a strand of viscoelastic fluid is stretched, these polymers can cause a line of beads to form just before the strand breaks.
Pasquali said the explanation for why some viscoelastic fluids form beads and others do not was decades in the making. The origins of the work can be traced to Pasquali's and Basaran's doctoral research adviser, L.E. "Skip" Scriven of the University of Minnesota. Pasquali said Scriven worked out the basics of the competition between capillary, inertial and viscous forces in flows during the 1970s and 1980s. In the mid-1990s, du
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