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Scientists solve mystery of how liquid droplets corrode hard surfaces

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities have discovered why liquid droplets may degrade hard surfaces in a first-of-its-kind investigation.

Researchers have been investigating the impact of droplets for years, from the way raindrops strike the ground to the transfer of infections like Covid-19 in aerosols. Slow-dripping water droplets are well-known for eroding surfaces over time. But how can something that appears to be soft and flowing have such a strong influence on hard surfaces?

Droplet impact was previously only studied visually using high-speed cameras. High-speed stress microscopy, a novel technology developed by University of Minnesota researchers, gives a more quantitative way to analyse this phenomena by directly measuring the force, stress and pressure beneath liquid drops as they contact surfaces.

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The researchers discovered that instead of being concentrated in the droplet’s centre, the force generated by the droplet spreads out with the hit and the speed at which the droplet spreads out exceeds the speed of sound in brief intervals, causing a shock wave across the surface. Each droplet acts as a little bomb, eroding surfaces over time.

This discovery might help engineers develop better erosion-resistant materials for applications that must withstand external conditions.


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