We study the influence of UV light on the drainage flows of foams and thin-liquid films stabilized by photoswitchable azobenzene surfactants, whose shape and hydrophobicity can be modified using UV illumination. This model system, the dynamics of which was well characterized in a previous study, enables us to trigger a controlled variation of the surface excess and surface tension. In both geometries we observe light-induced flows which are able to suppress the drainage flow induced by gravity. However, we show that the physical origin of the flows is different in both geometries. At the scale of a few films in the so-called ‘two-bubble’ experiment the comparisons of the physical length scales, i.e. the radius of the meniscus and the film thickness, to the chemical “reservoir length” (Γ/c) show that the flux of the surfactant at the interface in the presence of UV light is different in the films and in the meniscus, inducing a Marangoni flow from the meniscus to the film, which is stronger than gravity and capillary suction. The velocity of this flow can be tuned by the light intensity and the surfactant concentration. In the real foams, however, we show that the above mechanism is not relevant because the radii of curvature of the Plateau borders are orders of magnitude lower than in the two-bubble experiment, thus the capillary suction prevents such transfer between the films and the Plateau borders. Instead, the decrease of the drainage velocity is shown to be due to a gradient of the surface tension in the illuminated zone hence to a local variation of the capillary pressure. This study underlines the importance of characterizing the radius of the Plateau borders for the understanding of foams, as this key parameter sets the order of magnitude of capillary pressure, film thickness and amount of available surfactant. We also show that this photosurfactant is a new toolbox for the understanding of foam stability.
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