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Phys Rev Lett. 2008 Jan 18;100(2):024501. Epub 2008 Jan 15.

Decompressing emulsion droplets favors coalescence.

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UPMC Univ. Paris 06, ESPCI, CNRS, 10 rue Vauquelin, 75005 Paris, France.


The destabilization process of an emulsion under flow is investigated in a microfluidic device. The experimental approach enables us to generate a periodic train of droplet pairs, and thus to isolate and analyze the basic step of the destabilization, namely, the coalescence of two droplets which collide. We demonstrate a counterintuitive phenomenon: coalescence occurs during the separation phase and not during the impact. Separation induces the formation of two facing nipples in the contact area that hastens the connection of the interfaces prior to fusion. Moreover, droplet pairs initially stabilized by surfactants can be destabilized by forcing the separation. Finally, we note that the fusion mechanism is responsible for a cascade of coalescence events in a compact system of droplets where the separation is driven by surface tension.

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