Viscous fingering in a radial elastic-walled Hele-Shaw cell

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Abstract

We study the viscous-fingering instability in a radial Hele-Shaw cell in which the top boundary has been replaced by a thin elastic sheet. The introduction of wall elasticity delays the onset of the fingering instability to much larger values of the injection flow rate. Furthermore, when the instability develops, the fingers that form on the expanding air–liquid interface are short and stubby, in contrast with the highly branched patterns observed in rigid-walled cells (Pihler-Puzović et al., Phys. Rev. Lett., vol. 108, 2012, 074502). We report the outcome of a comprehensive experimental study of this problem and compare the experimental observations to the predictions from a theoretical model that is based on the solution of the Reynolds lubrication equations, coupled to the Föppl–von-Kármán equations which describe the deformation of the elastic sheet. We perform a linear stability analysis to study the evolution of small-amplitude non-axisymmetric perturbations to the time-evolving base flow. We then derive a simplified model by exploiting the observations (i) that the non-axisymmetric perturbations to the sheet are very small and (ii) that perturbations to the flow occur predominantly in a small wedge-shaped region ahead of the air–liquid interface. This allows us to identify the various physical mechanisms by which viscous fingering is weakened (or even suppressed) by the presence of wall elasticity. We show that the theoretical predictions for the growth rate of small-amplitude perturbations are in good agreement with experimental observations for injection flow rates that are slightly larger than the critical flow rate required for the onset of the instability. We also characterize the large-amplitude fingering patterns that develop at larger injection flow rates. We show that the wavenumber of these patterns is still well predicted by the linear stability analysis, and that the length of the fingers is set by the local geometry of the compliant cell.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Volume849
Early online date18 Jun 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2018

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