Surface tension forces can drive fluid motion within thin liquid layers with a free surface. Spatial variations in the temperature of the free surface create surface tractions that drive cellular motions. The cells are most commonly hexagonal in shape and they scale on the thickness of the fluid layer. This investigation documents the formation of cells in the liquid film in the presence of a uniform-heat-flux lower boundary condition. Liquid crystal thermography was used to image the cells and measure the temperature distribution on the lower surface of the liquid layer.

A 1.1-mm deep pool of silicone oil was supported on a 50-μm-thick electrically heated metal foil. The oil was retained inside an independently heated acrylic ring mounted on the top surface of the foil, and a dry-ice cooling plate served as the low-temperature sink above the free surface of the oil. Color images of hexagonal convection cells were captured using liquid crystal thermography and a digital image acquisition and processing system. The temperature distribution inside a typical cell was measured using thermographic image analysis. Experimental issues such as the use of an independently heated retaining ring to control the height of the liquid film, and the utility of a flux-based Marangoni number are discussed.

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