Film drainage and coalescence between deformable drops and bubbles†
The interaction between deformable drops or bubbles encompasses a number of distinguishing characteristics not present in the interaction between solid bodies. The drops can entrap a thin liquid film of the continuous phase that can lead to a stable film or coalescence. But before leading to either of these outcomes, the film must drain under the influence of an external driving force. This drainage process exhibits all the characteristic features of dynamic interactions between soft materials. For example, the spatial and temporal variations of forces and geometric deformations, arising from hydrodynamic flow, surface forces and variations in material properties, are all inextricably interconnected. Recent measurements of time-varying deformations and forces between interacting drops and bubbles confirmed that dynamic forces and geometric deformations are coupled and provide the key to understand novel phenomena such as the “wimple” in mechanically perturbed films. The counter-intuitive phenomenon of coalescence triggered by separating proximal drops or bubbles can also be elucidated using the same theoretical framework. One approach to modelling such systems is to use a fluid mechanics formulation of two-phase flow for which a number of parametric numerical studies have been made. Another popular approach focuses on describing the thin film between the interacting drops or bubbles with a flat film model upon which a phenomenological film drainage and rupture mechanism has been developed. While both models have a similar genesis, their predictions of the fate of the draining film are quite different. Furthermore, there have been few quantitative comparisons between results obtained from many different experimental approaches with either theory. One reason for this is perhaps due to difficulties in matching experimental parameters to model conditions. A direct attempt to model dynamic behaviour in many experimental studies is challenging as the model needs to be able to describe phenomena spanning six orders of magnitude in length scales. However, with the recent availability of accurate experimental studies concerning dynamic interaction between drops and bubbles that use very different, but complementary approaches, it is timely to conduct a critical review to compare such results with long-accepted paradigms of film stability and coalescence. This topic involves the coupling of behaviour on the millimetre–micrometre scale familiar to readers with an engineering and fluid mechanics background to phenomena on the micrometre–nanometre scale that is the domain of the interfacial science and nanotechnology community.