Evaporative cooling, which exploits the large latent heats associated with phase change, is of interest in a variety of thermal management technologies. Yet our fundamental understanding of thermal and mass transport remains limited. Evaporation and condensation can change the local temperature, and hence surface tension, along a liquid-vapor interface. The resulting thermocapillary stresses are dominant at small length scales in many cases.

For the vast majority of single-component coolants, surface tension decreases as temperature increases, resulting in thermocapillary stresses that drive the liquid away from hot regions, leading to dryout, for example. The direction of flow driven by thermocapillary stresses is therefore consistent with that driven by buoyancy effects due to changes in the liquid density with temperature.

However, a number of binary “self-rewetting fluids,” consisting of water-alcohol mixtures, have surface tensions that increase with temperature, leading to thermocapillary stresses that drive liquid towards hot regions, improving cooling performance. Although not all binary coolants are self-rewetting, all such coolants are subject to solutocapillary stresses, where differential evaporation of the two fluid components leads to changes in local species concentration at the liquid-vapor interface, and hence in surface tension.

Given the lack of general models of thermal and mass transport in nonisothermal two-phase flows, experimental studies of convection in simple fluids and binary alcohol-water mixtures due to evaporation and condensation driven by a horizontal temperature gradient were performed. In these initial studies, both the simple and binary fluids have thermocapillary stresses that drive liquid away from hot regions. However, the binary fluid also has solutocapillary stresses that drive liquid towards hot regions. Particle-image velocimetry (PIV) is used to nonintrusively measure the velocity and temperature fields in a layer of liquid a few mm in depth in a 1 cm × 1 cm × 4.85 cm sealed and evacuated cuvette heated on one end and cooled on the other end.

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