A three-dimensional small-deformation theory for electrohydrodynamics of dielectric drops

Debasish Das, David Saintillan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


Electrohydrodynamics of drops is a classic fluid mechanical problem where deformations and microscale flows are generated by application of an external electric field. In weak fields, electric stresses acting on the drop surface drive quadrupolar flows inside and outside and cause the drop to adopt a steady axisymmetric shape. This phenomenon is best explained by the leaky-dielectric model under the premise that a net surface charge is present at the interface while the bulk fluids are electroneutral. In the case of dielectric drops, increasing the electric field beyond a critical value can cause the drop to start rotating spontaneously and assume a steady tilted shape. This symmetry-breaking phenomenon, called Quincke rotation, arises due to the action of the interfacial electric torque countering the viscous torque on the drop, giving rise to steady rotation in sufficiently strong fields. Here, we present a small-deformation theory for the electrohydrodynamics of dielectric drops for the complete Melcher-Taylor leaky-dielectric model in three dimensions. Our theory is valid in the limits of strong capillary forces and highly viscous drops and is able to capture the transition to Quincke rotation. A coupled set of nonlinear ordinary differential equations for the induced dipole moments and shape functions are derived whose solution matches well with experimental results in the appropriate small-deformation regime. Retention of both the straining and rotational components of the flow in the governing equation for charge transport enables us to perform a linear stability analysis and derive a criterion for the applied electric field strength that must be overcome for the onset of Quincke rotation of a viscous drop.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA22
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Early online date5 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2021


  • drops
  • electrohydrodynamic effects
  • microscale flows


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