Bursting of bubbles at an air/liquid interface is a familiar occurrence relevant to foam stability, cell cultures in bioreactors and ocean-atmosphere mass transfer. In the latter case, bubble-bursting leads to the dispersal of sea-water aerosols in the surrounding air. Here we show that bubbles bursting at a compound air/oil/water-with-surfactant interface can disperse submicrometre oil droplets in water. Dispersal results from the detachment of an oil spray from the bottom of the bubble towards water during bubble collapse. We provide evidence that droplet size is selected by physicochemical interactions between oil molecules and the surfactants rather than by hydrodynamics. We demonstrate the unrecognized role that this dispersal mechanism may play in the fate of the sea surface microlayer and of pollutant spills by dispersing petroleum in the water column. Finally, our system provides an energy-efficient route, with potential upscalability, for applications in drug delivery, food production and materials science.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)