The displacement of one fluid by another is one of the most common processes involving interfacial instabilities. It is universally accepted that, in a uniform medium, flow displacement is unstable when a low-viscosity fluid invades a fluid of higher viscosity: the classical viscous fingering instability 1-4 . Consequently, once fluid properties are specified, opportunities for control become very limited. However, real systems where displacement instabilities occur, such as porous structures 5,6 , lung airways 7,8 and printing devices 9,11 , are rarely uniform. We find that the simplest heterogeneity - a gradient in the flow passage 12-15 - can lead to fundamentally different displacement behaviours. We use this finding to either inhibit or trigger an instability and, hence, to devise a strategy to manipulate instabilities in fluid-fluid systems. The control setting we identify has a wide spectrum of applications ranging from small-scale technologies such as microfluidics to large-scale operations such as enhanced oil recovery.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)