We investigate the stretching and breakup of a drop freely suspended in a viscous fluid undergoing chaotic advection. Droplets stretch into filaments acted on by a complex flow history leading to exponential length increase, folding, and eventual breakup; following breakup, chaotic stirring disperses the fragments throughout the flow. These events are studied by experiments conducted in a time-periodic two-dimensional low-Reynolds-number chaotic flow. Studies are restricted to viscosity ratios p such that 0.01 < p < 2.8.
The experimental results are highly reproducible and illustrate new qualitative aspects with respect to the case of stretching and breakup in linear flows. For example, breakup near folds is associated with a change of sign in stretching rate; this mode of breakup leads to the formation of rather large drops. The dominant breakup mechanism, however, is capillary wave instabilities in highly stretched filaments. Other modes of breakup, such as necking and end-pinching occur as well.
We find that drops in low-viscosity-ratio systems, p < 1, extend relatively little, O (101−102), before they break, resulting in the formation of large droplets that may or may not break again; droplets in systems with p > 1, on the other hand, stretch substantially, O (102–104), before they break, producing very small fragments that rarely break again. This results in a more non-uniform equilibrium drop size distribution than in the case of low-viscosity-ratio systems where there is a succession of breakup events. We find as well that the mean drop size decreases as the viscosity ratio increases.
The experimental results are interpreted in terms of a simple model assuming that moderately extended filaments behave passively; this is an excellent approximation especially for low-viscosity-ratio drops. The repetitive nature of stretching and folding, as well as of the breakup process itself, suggests self-similarity. We find that, indeed, upon scaling, the drop size distributions corresponding to different viscosity ratios can be collapsed into a master curve.