The motion of bubbles and capsules in tubes of varying geometry

  • Geoffrey Dawson

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis addresses aspects of the transport of bubbles and capsules (a thin elastic membrane enclosing a viscous fluid) by means of a viscous flow in complex vessel geometries. It focusses on two related themes: (i) the trapping of air bubbles in a sudden streamwise tube expansion and (ii) the extreme deformation of bubbles and capsules in a localised tube constriction. Air bubbles of different volumes were trapped in a tube with a square cross-section, which contains a sudden streamwise expansion in tube width. The liquid filling the tube was driven by constant volume-flux flow, and experiments were performed in both millimetric and micrometric tubes to identify the range of flow rates for which bubbles could get trapped. The gradients in surface energy generated by the broadening of the bubble into the expansion depend strongly on bubble volume and the expansion length. It is shown that in order for a trapped bubble to release from the expansion, the work of the pressure forces due to flow past the bubble must exceed the change in surface energy required to squeeze into the narrower channel. This criterion for trapping was verified by direct pressure measurements and a capillary static model, which uses three-dimensional Surface Evolver calculations. The extreme deformation of bubbles and capsules was investigated using a localised constriction of the tube width. Both bubbles and capsules were shown to adopt highly contorted configurations and exhibit broadly similar features over a wide range of flow rates, suggesting that the deformation was primarily imposed by the geometry through viscous shear forces. However, bubbles and capsules also display distinguishing features. Bubbles can breakup and exhibit thinning of the rear of the bubble at a critical flow rate, which is associated with a divergence of the rear tip speed and curvature. In contrast, the capsule membrane can wrinkle and fold, and the membrane thickness imposes the value of the maximum curvature locally available to the capsule.
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAnne Juel (Supervisor) & Andrew Hazel (Supervisor)


  • microfluidics
  • interfacial flows (free surface)
  • capsules
  • capillary flows
  • bubble dynamics
  • drops and bubbles

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