Research ArticlePHYSICS

Final fate of a Leidenfrost droplet: Explosion or takeoff

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Science Advances  03 May 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 5, eaav8081
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav8081


When a liquid droplet is placed on a very hot solid, it levitates on its own vapor layer, a phenomenon called the Leidenfrost effect. Although the mechanisms governing the droplet’s levitation have been explored, not much is known about the fate of the Leidenfrost droplet. Here we report on the final stages of evaporation of Leidenfrost droplets. While initially small droplets tend to take off, unexpectedly, the initially large ones explode with a crack sound. We interpret these in the context of unavoidable droplet contaminants, which accumulate at the droplet-air interface, resulting in reduced evaporation rate, and contact with the substrate. We validate this hypothesis by introducing controlled amounts of microparticles and reveal a universal 1/3-scaling law for the dimensionless explosion radius versus contaminant fraction. Our findings open up new opportunities for controlling the duration and rate of Leidenfrost heat transfer and propulsion by tuning the droplet’s size and contamination.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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