Skating on a film of air: Drops impacting on a surface

John M. Kolinski*, Shmuel M. Rubinstein, Shreyas Mandre, Michael P. Brenner, David A. Weitz, L. Mahadevan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


The commonly accepted description of drops impacting on a surface typically ignores the essential role of the air that is trapped between the impacting drop and the surface. Here we describe a new imaging modality that is sensitive to the behavior right at the surface. We show that a very thin film of air, only a few tens of nanometers thick, remains trapped between the falling drop and the surface as the drop spreads. The thin film of air serves to lubricate the drop enabling the fluid to skate on the air film laterally outward at surprisingly high velocities, consistent with theoretical predictions. Eventually this thin film of air breaks down as the fluid wets the surface via a spinodal-like mechanism. Our results show that the dynamics of impacting drops are much more complex than previously thought, with a rich array of unexpected phenomena that require rethinking classic paradigms.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number074503
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - 15 Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes


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