Gravity-induced collisions of spherical drops covered with compressible surfactant

Alexander Z. Zinchenko, Michael A. Rother, Robert H. Davis

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7 Scopus citations


Gravity-induced collisions of two spherical drops covered with an insoluble surfactant at low Reynolds numbers are considered. Unlike in previous collision studies, the present work accounts for nonlinear coupling between the surfactant distribution and drop hydrodynamics by solving the full unsteady convective-diffusion equation for the surfactant transport. Our method includes high-order three-dimensional multipole expansions for hydrodynamics and a Galerkin-type approach for the surfactant transport with implicit marching. The efficiency of the algorithm allows for calculating thousands of trajectories to very close contact and determining the collision efficiency (related to the critical initial horizontal offset) by trial and error. The solution is valid for arbitrary surface Péclet (Pes) and Marangoni (Ma) numbers and sets limitations on approximations used in prior work for collision-efficiency calculations. Two limiting cases are observed: at small Pes or large Ma, the variation in surfactant coverage is small, and the results for the incompressible surfactant model are recovered, while for large Pes and small Ma, the collision efficiency approaches the clean-interface value. For moderate drop-size ratios (radius ratio k 0.5), the results generally fall between these limits. At larger size ratios, however, the collision efficiency may even exceed the geometrical Smoluchowski limit for both drops and bubbles. Moreover, with even moderate redistribution of the surfactant, equal-sized drops can move relative to one another and collide. These novel effects do not exist for clean drops or drops covered with an incompressible surfactant, and they are due to the nonlinear coupling between surfactant dynamics and flow. This surfactant-enhanced coalescence takes place, for example, in a physical system of air bubbles in water if the surfactant surface concentration is dilute (1109 mol m2, much smaller than the typical maximum-packing value of 105106 mol m2).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-402
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Jan 25 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work of M.A.R. was supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Minnesota. M.A.R. would like to thank the VDIL at UMD and the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute for use of computing resources.


  • breakup/coalescence
  • drops and bubbles
  • emulsions


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