Coalescence of isotropic droplets in overheated free standing smectic films
A theoretical study of the interaction and coalescence of isotropic droplets in overheated free-standing smectic films (FSSF) is presented. Experimentally it is clear that merging of such droplets is extremely rare. On the basis of the general thermodynamic approach to the stability of FSSF, we determined the energy gains and losses involved in the coalescence process. The main contributions to the critical work of drop coalescence are due to the gain related to the decrease of the surface energy of the merging drops, which is opposed by the entropic repulsions of elementary steps at the smectic interface between them. To quantify the evolution of the merging drops, we use a simple geometrical model in which the volume of the smectic material, rearranged in the process of coalescence, is described by an asymmetrical pyramid at the intersection of two drops. In this way, the critical work for drop coalescence and the corresponding energy barrier have been calculated. The probability of the thermal activation of the coalescence process was found to be negligibly small, indicating that droplet merging can be initiated by only an external stimulus. The dynamics of drop merging was calculated by equating the capillary force driving the coalescence, and the Stokes viscous force slowing it down. For the latter, an approximation of moving oblate spheroids permitting exact calculations was used. The time evolution of the height of the neck between the coalescing drops and that of their lateral size are in good agreement with experiments.