When liquids containing small particles evaporate, those fluids often leave behind fingerprints like coffee rings or whiskey webs (SN: 10/31/19). But liquids mixed with other liquids leave their own distinct residue patterns.
An evaporating droplet that contains two fluids can sprout fingerlike protrusions or a chain of smaller droplets around its edge, depending on the liquids in the mixture, researchers report February 14 in Physical Review Letters. The researchers caught these phenomena on video using droplets of isopropanol, a component of rubbing alcohol, mixed with either an antifreeze ingredient called ethylene glycol or another chemical called dodecane. Similar patterns appear in other evaporating fluid mixtures, too.
Researchers deposited 1-microliter drops of isopropanol, mixed with either ethylene glycol or dodecane, on a smooth surface. As each drop spread out, the isopropanol evaporated quickly at the edge, where the puddle was thinnest — leaving a higher concentration of either ethylene glycol or dodecane around the puddle’s perimeter.
That distending rim ultimately splintered into a ring of smaller droplets. In pools containing ethylene glycol, those droplets stretched outward to create fingerlike protrusions. In the dodecane-containing pools, the droplets formed a beaded necklace around the puddle.
The difference in puddle edge pattern arose from the liquids’ different surface tensions — how tightly molecules on a fluid’s surface cling to each other (SN: 12/6/18). Liquid tends to flow toward regions with higher surface tension, where molecules exert a stronger pull on each other. “Think tug-of-war,” says coauthor Justin Burton, a physicist at Emory University in Atlanta. “If you have a higher surface tension on one side … one tug-of-war team [is] stronger than the other, and then everything starts to move” in that direction.
Ethylene glycol’s surface tension is about 2.2 times as high as isopropanol’s. As a result, ethylene glycol–rich droplets around the edge of an evaporating puddle drag fluid from the center of the pool outward, forming fingerlike protrusions. Dodecane, on the other hand, has a surface tension comparable to that of isopropanol. So the droplets around the edge of dodecane-containing puddles stay put.