Chapter 1

Fundamentals of Capillarity

1.1 Abstract

In this first chapter, the fundamentals of capillarity are presented. We follow a conventional approach [1], first presenting surface tension of an interface, which is the fundamental notion in capillarity theory; this notion leads naturally to that of wetting, then to Laplace’s law, and to the introduction of Young contact angles and capillary forces. Next, different applications of capillary forces are shown, and the problem of the measurement of surface tensions is presented.

1.2 Interfaces and Surface Tension

1.2.1 The Notion of Interface

Mathematically speaking, an interface is the geometrical surface that delimits two fluid domains. This definition implies that an interface has no thickness and is smooth (i.e. has no roughness). As practical as it is, this definition is in reality a schematic concept. The reality is more complex, the boundary between two immiscible liquids is somewhat blurred and the separation of the two fluids (water/air, water/oil, etc.) depends on molecular interactions between the molecules of each fluid [2] and on Brownian diffusion (thermal agitation). A microscopic view of the interface between two fluids looks more like the scheme of figure 1.1. However, in engineering applications, it is the macroscopic behavior of the interface that is the focus of attention, and the mathematical concept regains its utility. At a macroscopic size, the picture of figure 1.1 can be replaced by that of figure 1.2 ...

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