The Life and Death of a Drop

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

2:30pm - 3:45pm

107 Surge Building

Professor Sidney Nagel
Physical Sciences Division
University of Chicago


The exhilarating spray from waves crashing against the shore, the distressing sound of a faucet leaking in the night, and the indispensable role of bubbles dissolving gas into the oceans are but a few examples of the ubiquitous presence and profound importance of drop formation and splashing in our lives.  They are also examples of a liquid changing its topology as it breaks into pieces.  Although part of our common everyday experience, these changes are far from understood and reveal delightful and profound surprises upon careful investigation.  For example, in droplet fission the fluid forms a neck that becomes vanishingly thin at the point of breakup a dynamic singularity occurs in which physical properties such as pressure diverge.  Singularities of this sort often organize the overall dynamical evolution of nonlinear systems.  In this lecture, I will give the life history of a drop – from its birth to its eventual demise – illustrating the passage of its existence with the scientific surprises that determine its fate.



Sidney R. Nagel is the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago.  His work has focused on experiments on pattern formation, topological transitions in liquids, the glass transition, and granular materials.  Another emphasis has been on understanding the properties of disordered materials through the concept of jamming.

Nagel received his B.A. from Columbia University and his Ph.D. degree from Princeton University.  After a postdoctoral position at Brown University he joined the University of Chicago in 1976.  He served twice as the Director of the University of Chicago Materials Research Laboratory and as Associate Dean in the Physical Sciences Division and the College.  Nagel’s honors include election to the National Academy of Science as well as to Fellowship in the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He received the Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Physics Prize from the American Physical Society, the Klopsteg Award of the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Chicago.