Theories of binary fluid mixtures: From phase-separation kinetics to active emulsions

22 Jan 2018

Binary fluid mixtures are examples of complex fluids whose microstructure and flow are strongly coupled. For pairs of simple fluids, the microstructure consists of droplets or bicontinuous demixed domains and the physics is controlled by the interfaces between these domains. At continuum level, the structure is defined by a composition field whose gradients which are steep near interfaces drive its diffusive current. These gradients also cause thermodynamic stresses which can drive fluid flow. Fluid flow in turn advects the composition field, while thermal noise creates additional random fluxes that allow the system to explore its configuration space and move towards the Boltzmann distribution. This article introduces continuum models of binary fluids, first covering some well-studied areas such as the thermodynamics and kinetics of phase separation, and emulsion stability. We then address cases where one of the fluid components has anisotropic structure at mesoscopic scales creating nematic (or polar) liquid-crystalline order; this can be described through an additional tensor (or vector) order parameter field. We conclude by outlining a thriving area of current research, namely active emulsions, in which one of the binary components consists of living or synthetic material that is continuously converting chemical energy into mechanical work.