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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 4;109(36):14353-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1204920109. Epub 2012 Aug 20.

Electric fields yield chaos in microflows.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


We present an investigation of chaotic dynamics of a low Reynolds number electrokinetic flow. Electrokinetic flows arise due to couplings of electric fields and electric double layers. In these flows, applied (steady) electric fields can couple with ionic conductivity gradients outside electric double layers to produce flow instabilities. The threshold of these instabilities is controlled by an electric Rayleigh number, Ra(e). As Ra(e) increases monotonically, we show here flow dynamics can transition from steady state to a time-dependent periodic state and then to an aperiodic, chaotic state. Interestingly, further monotonic increase of Ra(e) shows a transition back to a well-ordered state, followed by a second transition to a chaotic state. Temporal power spectra and time-delay phase maps of low dimensional attractors graphically depict the sequence between periodic and chaotic states. To our knowledge, this is a unique report of a low Reynolds number flow with such a sequence of periodic-to-aperiodic transitions. Also unique is a report of strange attractors triggered and sustained through electric fluid body forces.

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