We study experimentally the propagation of an air finger through the Y-bifurcation of an elastic, liquid-filled Hele-Shaw channel, as a benchtop model of airway reopening. With channel compliance provided by an elastic upper boundary, we can impose collapsed channel configurations into which we inject air with constant volumetric flow rate. We typically observe steady finger propagation in the main channel, which is lost ahead of the Y-bifurcation but subsequently recovered in the daughter channels. At low levels of initial collapse, steady finger shapes and bubble pressure in the daughter channels map onto those in the main channel. However, at higher levels of initial collapse where the elastic sheet almost touches the bottom boundary of the channel, experimentally indistinguishable fingers in the main channel can lead to multiple states of reopening of the daughter channels. The downstream distance at which steady propagation is recovered in the daughter channels also varies considerably with injection flow rate and initial collapse because of a transition in the mechanics regulating finger propagation. We find that the characteristic time and length-scales of this recovery are largest in the regime where viscous and surface tension forces dominate finger propagation and that they decrease towards a constant plateau in the limit where elastic forces supersede viscous forces. Our findings suggest that practical networks are unlikely to comprise long enough channels for steady state propagation to be recovered between bifurcations.
|Physical Review Fluids
|Accepted/In press - 1 Aug 2023