Discrete fluidization of dense monodisperse emulsions in neutral wetting microchannels†
The rheology of pressure-driven flows of two-dimensional dense monodisperse emulsions in neutral wetting microchannels is investigated by means of mesoscopic lattice Boltzmann simulations, capable of handling large collections of droplets, in the order of several hundreds. The simulations reveal that the fluidization of the emulsion proceeds through a sequence of discrete steps, characterized by yielding events whereby layers of droplets start rolling over each other, thus leading to sudden drops of the relative effective viscosity. It is shown that such discrete fluidization is robust against loss of confinement, namely it persists also in the regime of small ratios of the droplet diameter over the microchannel width. We also develop a simple phenomenological model which predicts a linear relation between the relative effective viscosity of the emulsion and the product of the confinement parameter (global size of the device over droplet radius) and the viscosity ratio between the disperse and continuous phases. The model shows excellent agreement with the numerical simulations. The present work offers new insights to enable the design of microfluidic scaffolds for tissue engineering applications and paves the way to detailed rheological studies of soft-glassy materials in complex geometries.