Volatile Droplets on Water are Sculpted by Vigorous Marangoni-Driven Subphase Flow

Yitan Li, Yuguang Chen, Yan Li, Howard A. Stone, Amir A. Pahlavan, Steve Granick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The shapes of highly volatile oil-on-water droplets become strongly asymmetric when they are out of equilibrium. The unsaturated organic vapor atmosphere causes evaporation and leads to a strong Marangoni flow in the bath, unlike that previously seen in the literature. Inspecting these shapes experimentally on millisecond and submillimeter time and length scales and theoretically by scaling arguments, we confirm that Marangoni-driven convection in the subphase mechanically stresses the droplet edges to an extent that increases for organic droplets of smaller contact angle and accordingly smaller thickness. The viscous stress generated by the subphase overcomes the thermodynamic Laplace pressure. The oil droplets develop copious regularly spaced fingers, and these fingers develop spike-shaped and branched treelike structures. Unlike this behavior for single-component (surfactant-free) oil droplets, droplets composed of two miscible (surfactant-free) organic liquids develop a rim of the less volatile component along the droplet perimeter, from which jets of monodisperse smaller droplets eject periodically due to the Rayleigh-Plateau instability. When evaporation shrinks droplets to μm size, their shapes fluctuate chaotically, and ellipsoidal shapes rupture into smaller daughter droplets when subphase convection flow pulls them in opposite directions. The shape of the evaporating oil droplets is kneaded and sculpted by vigorous flow in the water subphase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16272-16283
Number of pages12
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 21 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Spectroscopy
  • General Materials Science
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Electrochemistry


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