Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Self-propelling slugs

a1 Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
a2 Laboratoire de Physique de la Matière Condensée, UMR 7125 du CNRS, Collège de France, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France


Surface coating is generally achieved by an active operation: painting with a brush; withdrawing from a bath. Porous imbibition constitutes a more passive way: a porous material just put in contact with a reservoir containing a wetting fluid is spontaneously invaded. In this case, the material can eventually be filled by the fluid. If the aim is to coat only the surface of the pores, the liquid excess must be actively removed. We present an experiment in which a liquid train spontaneously moves in a capillary tube because of the trail it leaves behind. From a practical point of view, this system achieves a coating of the tube. The condition required for this motion and a model for its dynamics are presented. We also show how these trains can drive extremely viscous liquid slugs (or even solid bodies) in narrow tubes. We discuss the thickness of the deposited films. Extensions and limits of this system in more complex geometries are finally described, together with special cases such as the deposition of solid films.

(Received November 12 2001)
(Revised February 6 2002)