Regular Article - Flowing Matter
From diffusive mass transfer in Stokes flow to low Reynolds number Marangoni boats
Department of Physics, Technische Universität Dortmund, 44221, Dortmund, Germany
Accepted: 2 February 2021
Published online: 12 February 2021
We present a theory for the self-propulsion of symmetric, half-spherical Marangoni boats (soap or camphor boats) at low Reynolds numbers. Propulsion is generated by release (diffusive emission or dissolution) of water-soluble surfactant molecules, which modulate the air–water interfacial tension. Propulsion either requires asymmetric release or spontaneous symmetry breaking by coupling to advection for a perfectly symmetrical swimmer. We study the diffusion–advection problem for a sphere in Stokes flow analytically and numerically both for constant concentration and constant flux boundary conditions. We derive novel results for concentration profiles under constant flux boundary conditions and for the Nusselt number (the dimensionless ratio of total emitted flux and diffusive flux). Based on these results, we analyze the Marangoni boat for small Marangoni propulsion (low Peclet number) and show that two swimming regimes exist, a diffusive regime at low velocities and an advection-dominated regime at high swimmer velocities. We describe both the limit of large Marangoni propulsion (high Peclet number) and the effects from evaporation by approximative analytical theories. The swimming velocity is determined by force balance, and we obtain a general expression for the Marangoni forces, which comprises both direct Marangoni forces from the surface tension gradient along the air–water–swimmer contact line and Marangoni flow forces. We unravel whether the Marangoni flow contribution is exerting a forward or backward force during propulsion. Our main result is the relation between Peclet number and swimming velocity. Spontaneous symmetry breaking and, thus, swimming occur for a perfectly symmetrical swimmer above a critical Peclet number, which becomes small for large system sizes. We find a supercritical swimming bifurcation for a symmetric swimmer and an avoided bifurcation in the presence of an asymmetry.
© The Author(s) 2021
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