What is it about?

Liquid streams emerging from a nozzle breakup rapidly into droplets due to Rayleigh-Plateau instabilities driven by surface tension. Liquid metals have enormous surface tension yet can be coerced into stable cylindrical streams by applying an oxidizing potential to the metal as it is injected into an electrolyte at low velocities. The interfacial tension of a microfluidic stream of liquid metal can be manipulated electrochemically in real time to produce a range of morphologies, including droplets, fine (100 μm diameter) wires, and rough shapes. The liquid wires can flow and bend without breaking over long distances.

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Why is it important?

This phenomenon enables new approaches for production of metallic structures at room temperature, on-demand fluid-in-fluid structuring, and new tools for studying and controlling fluid behavior. In particular, liquid metals are promising for soft and stretchable electronics and composites.

Perspectives

Liquid streams are common. Simply turn on your faucet to see an example from your daily life. All liquid streams have one thing in common: they break up into droplets if given enough time. Our work is interesting because it shows (we believe for the first time) a simple way to stabilize a liquid stream. And even more remarkable - it is a stream that has all the properties that should accelerate break-up (small diameter, low viscosity, and high surface tension). In addition to being fascinating, these streams may have implications in depositing metals into useful shapes at room temperature.

Michael Dickey
North Carolina State University

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This page is a summary of: Overcoming Rayleigh–Plateau instabilities: Stabilizing and destabilizing liquid-metal streams via electrochemical oxidation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2006122117.
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