On Impact Dynamics under Complex or Extreme Conditions

  • Nadia Kouraytem

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The impact of a spherical object onto a surface of a liquid, solid or granular material, is a configuration which occurs in numerous industrial and natural phenomena. The resulting dynamics can produce complex outcomes and often occur on very short time-scales. Their study thereby requires high-speed video imaging, as is done herein. This three-part dissertation investigates widely disparate but kindred impact configurations, where the impacting object is a solid steel sphere, or a molten metal droplet. The substrate, on the other hand, is either granular material, a liquid, or solid ice. Therefore both fluid mechanics and thermodynamics play a key role in some of these dynamics. Part I, investigates the penetration depth of a steel sphere which impacts onto a granular bed containing a mixture of grains of two different sizes. The addition of smaller grains within a bed of larger grains can promote a “lubrication” effect and deeper penetration of the sphere. However, there needs to be enough mass fraction of the smaller grains so that they get lodged between the larger grains and are not simply like isolated rattlers inside the voids between the larger grains. This lubrication occurs even though the addition of the small grains increases the overall packing fraction of the bed. We compare the enhanced penetration for the mixtures to a simple interpolative model based on the results for monodispersed media of the constitutive sizes. The strongest lubrication is observed for large irregular shaped Ottawa sand grains, which are seeded with small spherical glass beads. Part II, tackles the topic of a molten metal drop impacting onto a pool of water. When the drop temperature is far above the boiling temperature of water, a continuous vapor layer can form at the interface between the metal and water, in what is called the Leidenfrost phenomenon. This vapor layer can become unstable forming what is called a vapor explosion, which can break up the molten metal drop. We study the details of these explosions and characterize the metal debris. We contrast the results for two different metals, i.e. tin and a special metal alloy called Field’s metal. For tin the drop solidifies and forms a porous foam-like solid, whereas the Field’s metal breaks up into a multitude of spherical beads, with a range of sizes as small as a few microns. We attribute this difference to the much lower melting point of the Field’s metal, which is only 60oC, compared to 230oC for the tin. This allows more fragmentation of the Field’s metal drop before it solidifies. When the temperature of the impacting metal is increased, high-speed imaging reveals a sequence of up to three vapor explosions, each of increasing intensity. We measure the acceleration of the vapor interface and compare the size-distribution of the microbeads to the fastest growing instability mode of the corresponding Rayleigh-Taylor instability. Part III, investigates the coefficient of restitution when a steel sphere impacts on an ice surface. As observed in earlier studies the restitution coefficient is largest for the smallest impact velocities, where the surface is not greatly fragmented. Our focus is on greatly heating the sphere up to 400oC to investigate how the thermal load affects the short term interaction of the sphere with the ice. We see a clear trend where hotter spheres rebound less than cold spheres. We also track the speed of ice-fragments ejected during the earliest stages of the impact.
Date of AwardNov 2016
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorSigurdur Thoroddsen (Supervisor)


  • granular matter
  • Bi-modal grains
  • Vapor explosion
  • Field's metal
  • High-temperature
  • High-speed imaging

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