Boukany, P., Hemminger, O., Wang, S., & Lee, L. (2010). Molecular Imaging of Slip in Entangled DNA Solution Physical Review Letters, 105 (2) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.105.027802
About the paper
Prof. Shiqing Wang (王十庆) have long been interested in observing the event inside the flowing sample during rheometry. He is known for showing the “inconvenient truth” of the research of experimental rheology: we do not always know if the flow field is homogeneous or not though we always assume it to be so.
He proposed the use of video to track the particle movement inside the test sample during shear. He found that a large proportion of conventional rheological measurement involved non-uniform shear field, i.e. nonlinear velocity profile along the vortex axes, which in effect undermines the reliability of most of the established basic knowledge of rheology. Fortunately, recently increasing number of physicists help solving this crisis by providing solid proposal for shear banding and shear localization theories. And many major experimental rheologists also seem to focus on the corresponding experiments, temporarily giving up their other own interests.
The instruments developed by Wang himself also allow new observations of event occurring in a flow field. The paper cited here is an observation of stretching or DNA molecules under parallel plate rheometry by addition of a confocal microscopy to a rheometer, directly relating the structural transition to the rheology. The results are simple and self-explained. Given such instrumental possibility, the first several theoretical things to validated, i.e. “what to see”, is obvious. But the work is still original in the instrument design. I love this kind of research. Imaginably, the rheometers in Wang’s lab are all in a hignly flexible situation, ready for all kinds of fixes. In contrast, rheometers in many labs are the same as home appliances, operated (sometimes even partly) according to the user manual released by the companies.
Rheo-confocal microscopy. Phys. Rev. Lett. 2010, 105, 027802. Copyright (2010) by The American Physical Society.
Why and how to be a good experimental rheologist
The definition of “rheology” as a discipline includes the following points: 1) the study of the relationship of stress and deformation; 2) the study of non-Newtonian fluid, viscoelasticity of soft solids and all other abnormal mechanical or flow behavior; and 3) study of structure-property relationship. The length of the history of rheology is longer than any discipline can last remaining phenomenological. However until now there is still much unknown in purely phenomenological sense in this area. Observation of new rheological behaviors keeps appearing the fast development of new materials. The understanding of these observation in a continuum sense is valuable for industrial practice and also challenging enough for pure research interest.
There is a large number of researchers who stay in this conventional rheology circle, while I myself am interested in the part of physics of complex fluids which rheology can lay a finger on. However, seeing from the physicists’ angle, rheology is limited at the experimental ends. It even represents a very special experimental condition of a sample; the state of the sample system is driven away from equilibrium by externally forced deformation (e.g. shearing). To be helpful for the study of complex fluids, esp. in non-equilibrium conditions, only knowing the macroscopic stress-deformation relationship cannot complete any logics. Although in polymer rheology much structural and dynamic information can be inferred by rheometry alone, this owes much to the rigorous development of polymer physics, which very much cares for rheology due to the fact that the application of polymer physics is largely under shearing conditions (e.g. polymer processing, coating, food processing). Instead, for research interests on other complex fluids, it is not always necessary to derive a rheological prediction after proposal of a structural theory. Rheologists should be more active in building the connection with theoretical study than physicists.
It is impractical but easy to imagine that an ideal, “omnipotent” complex fluids researcher should simultaneously have enough mathematical-physical skill to propose theoretical model for any system of interest, to deduce the stress tensor of viscosity prediction ready for experimental validation (e.g. a predicted density correlation function that can directly checked by dynamic light scattering or a constitutive equation in the case of rheology), and finally to validate it, with sophisticated experimental skill (of DLS or rheology for example).
However, in reality only a few proportion of grad students are excellent enough and properly trained to meet this standard (and congratulations, folks from CalTech and MIT). Practically a line should be draw somewhere between the theoretical and the experimental part of research. More lines may be necessary in the experimental part of research alone. In the narrow field of colloid rheology, some groups can achieve fruitful results by DLS experiments along. The DLS experiment is indeed very informative in the physical sense, directly measuring the local dynamic of structural transition with time, needless to mention that the prevailing mode-coupling theory (MCT) of colloidal glass directly gives an density correlation function, a convenience for DLS experimentalists. In the case of rheology however, only general, gross information of relaxation time is available without the support of existing structural theory. So while DLS can often provide new observations, rheological experiments are always limited in the hypothesis-testing ends.
I am particular interested in the imperfect case of me, who lack formal, solid training of nearly anything. I have trouble in understanding theory proposed by other in mathematical details; I have more in deducing experimentally checkable variables specifically for my own research project. Because of this limitation, for any new interesting research area I have to wait for the development of theoretical study until a refined and simple solution has come out, and even have to wait for the first experimental work which does the deduction toward the workable experimental parameter. My room to play is so small and immune of creativity if I remain theoretically handicap and always stay in the hypothesis testing ends in the line of scientific reasoning.
But I can still be more creative in another end — making new observations which can keep quite a few theorists busy for a while. Not every observations can attract the attention of physics, however, there are several characteristics of a highly cited physical observation.
Firstly, the observation should be very new and, of course, it should belong to you. Everyday there are billions of people doing all kinds of experiments of all kinds of samples on all kinds of instruments. A promising tip for people of low IQ and low creativity like me to have new and high impact observation is to develop an instrument that is completely unique all over the world, i.e. designed and DIY according to my own research interest. “Secondly”, “thirdly” and “fourthly” is common personal quality of scientific research research and will not repeat here.
Therefore, I should pay my limited intelligence to enhance my observability, esp. by designing ad hoc measuring devices for unconventional observational purposes.
Particularly, the conventional rotaional rheometry should combined with structural measurements. This idea has long be practiced but today it appears as a must. For example, in conventional DLS test the samples are filtered in to a cuvette and allow to stand at rest. To observe the behavior under shear condition it is now common that a shear cell is used instead of a cuvette in a DLS measurement. Shear cells is also widely used in various small-angle radiation measurements (e.g. SANS). However, these are not all the possibility. By such combination rheologists can not only say about the stresses and strains but also about the structures, the two parts mutually supported. However due to the limited performance of commercial shear cell, in most labs shear cells are still DIYed.
I have also seen many one-hit wonders of other rheometer fixes that serve very ad hoc purposes. These appear only a short while not because they are inefficient. Instead most of these designs are very clever. The difficulty for other to follow these research lies in maintaining the accuracy of data on a DIY setting. In many cases, once the student leave the lab, the setup he/she built is left unused, and the ideas behind is also dead. But I still love this kind of research. When I read one of these papers, I am not implied to following the authors citing their works (as is the case of most paper published), but refreshed by the extreme originality of it, reminding me to independently think of my own weird science and instruments.
In fact, the discipline of rheology bear this spirit of DIY. The early great experimental rheologists also made major contribution to the design of rheometer themselves. As far as I know, it was W. Philippoff who proposed oscillatory measurement. He was an electrical engineer, and got the idea at that time from the characterization of loss in oversea telephone signal by tanδ — the dielectric loss in this case. As his close colleague, A. Weissenberg develop a rheometer for this purpose, widely known as the “Weissenberg rheogoniometer”, e.g. the famous model R18, using a light beam to read the displacement analogous to the analytical balance. The accuracy of torque and displacement data is further enhanced by J. Ferry, who introduced electromagnetic transducers and obtained a rheometer that could output analytic signals. For a long period in a rheological experiment obtaining the data required knowledge of low-frequency circuit design. With the development of computer there was also once a time when a rheometer was connected to a “room”, the smallest size of computer at that time. It is intriguing that from the development of rheometer we actually see the history of electronics. These pioneers have set the excellent example of how to be a creative experimentalist (as they appeared to be more famous for their experimental work than theorectical ones): keep a close attention to the development of the vast field of technology and dare to apply new trick on the rheometers or other experimental instruments. On a uniquely designed instruments, all observation must be new, the rest lying on the physical meaning you want to address.