A Simple and Highly Effective Method to Control Interfacial Instability by Leveraging Flow Geometry

Web Published:

Princeton Docket # 12-2814

Researchers at Princeton University have developed a simple, easily implementable, highly effective, and accurate solution to control fluid interfacial instabilities.  The researchers discovered that the simplest heterogeneity in the flow passage can lead to fundamentally different displacement behaviors. This finding can be leveraged to either inhibit or trigger an instability and, hence, to devise a strategy to manipulate instabilities in fluid-fluid systems. The control setting identified has a wide spectrum of applications ranging from small-scale technologies such as microfluidics to large-scale operations such as enhanced oil recovery.

The displacement of one fluid by another is one of the most common processes involving interfacial instabilities.  It is universally accepted that, in a uniform medium, flow displacement is unstable when a low viscosity fluid invades a fluid of higher viscosity: the classical viscous fingering instability.  In most cases, interfacial instabilities hinder the operation of processes and limit their efficiency.  Moreover, instabilities at the interface of two distinct fluids remain a major challenge for enhanced oil recovery processes such as water flooding.  On the other hand, these instabilities can be beneficial to chromatographic separation and can improve mixing in non-turbulent systems and small-scale devices.  Depending on the application, either a stable or an unstable interface is desirable, thus the ability to control interfacial instabilities is essential in design and technology.



·        All multiphase flows in narrow passages

-      Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)

-      Microreactors (sensors, lab-on-a-chip technology)

-      Microfluidic devices (flow cytometry, micro mixing, etc.)

-      Cleaning of all manners of small devices

·        Large-scale operations such as enhanced oil recovery



·        Simple system           

·        Easily implementable

·        Accurate control

·        Highly effective


Faculty Inventor

Howard Stone is the Donald R. Dixon '69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University.  His research has been concerned with a variety of fundamental problems in fluid motions dominated by viscosity, so-called low Reynolds number flows, and has frequently featured a combination of theory, computer simulation and modeling, and experiments to provide a quantitative understanding of the flow phenomenon under investigation.  Prof. Stone is the recipient of the most prestigious fluid mechanics prize, the Batchelor Prize 2008, for the best research in fluid mechanics in the last ten years.  He is also a member of the Class of 2011 inductees of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Intellectual Property status

A provisional application has been filed.

Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
William Gowen
Licensing Associate
Princeton University
Talal Al-Housseiny
Howard Stone