Plateau-Rayleigh instability

The Plateau-Rayleigh instability, often called the Rayleigh-Taylor instability.

The driving force of the Plateau-Rayleigh instability is that liquids, by virtue of their surface tensions, tend to minimize their surface area.


The Plateau-Rayleigh instability is named for Joseph Plateau and Lord Rayleigh. In 1873, Plateau found experimentally that a vertically falling stream of water will break up into drops if its length is greater than about 3.13 to 3.18 times its diameter. [1] Later, Rayleigh showed theoretically that a vertically falling column of non-viscous liquid with a circular cross-section should break up into drops if its length exceeded its circumference, or Pi times its diameter. [2]

Water dripping from a faucet

A special case of this is the formation of small droplets when water is dripping from a faucet. When a segment of water begins to separate from the faucet, a neck is formed and then stretched. If the diameter of the faucet is big enough, the neck doesn't get sucked back in, and it undergoes a Plateau-Rayleigh instability and collapses into a small droplet.


  1. ^ Retardation of Plateau-Rayleigh Instability: A Distinguishing Characteristic Among Perfectly Wetting Fluids by John McCuan. Retrieved 1/19/2007.
  2. ^ See page 23 of this pdf Retrieved 1/19/2007.

See also

  • Plateau-Rayleigh Instability - a 3D lattice kinetic Monte Carlo simulation
  • An MIT lecture on falling fluid jets, including the Plateau -Rayleigh instability Pdf form, quite mathematical.
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