Instability of radially spreading extensional flows. Part 2. Theoretical analysis

Roiy Sayag, M. Grae Worster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The interface of a strain-rate-softening fluid that displaces a low-viscosity fluid in a circular geometry with negligible drag can develop finger-like patterns separated by regions in which the fluid appears to be torn apart. Such patterns were observed and explored experimentally in Part 1 using polymeric solutions. They do not occur when the viscosity of the displacing fluid is constant, or when the displacing fluid has no-slip conditions along its boundaries. We investigate theoretically the formation of tongues at the interface of an axisymmetric initial state. We show that finger-like patterns can emerge when circular interfaces of strain-rate-softening fluids displace low-viscosity fluids between stress-free boundaries. The instability, which is fundamentally different from the classical Saffman-Taylor viscous fingering, is driven by the tension that builds up along the circular front of the propagating fluid. That destabilising tension is a geometrical consequence and is present independently of the nonlinear properties of the fluid. Shear stresses stabilise the growth either along extended circumferential streamlines or through a street of vortices. However, such stabilising processes become weaker, thereby allowing the instability to develop, the more strain-rate-softening the fluid is. The theoretical model that we present predicts the main experimental observations made in Part 1. In particular, the patterns we predict using linear-stability theory are consistent with the strongly nonlinear experimental patterns. Our model depends on a single dimensionless number representing the power-law exponent, which implies that the instability we describe could arise in any extensional flow of strain-rate-softening material, ranging from suspensions that rupture in squeeze experiments to rifts formed in ice shelves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)739-771
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - 25 Dec 2019


  • complex fluids
  • instability
  • thin films

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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