We consider a simple physical model for the reopening of a collapsed lung airway involving the unsteady propagation of a long bubble of air, driven at a prescribed flow-rate, into a liquid-filled channel formed by two flexible membranes that are held under large longitudinal tension and are confined between two parallel rigid plates. This system is described theoretically using an asymptotic approximation, valid for uniformly small membrane slopes, which reduces to a fourth-order nonlinear evolution equation for the channel width ahead of the bubble tip, from which the time-evolution of the bubble pressure pb* and bubble speed may be determined. The model shows that there can be a substantial delay between the time at which the bubble starts to grow in volume and the time at which its tip starts to move. Under certain conditions, the start of the bubble’s motion is accompanied by a transient overshoot in pb*, as seen previously in experiment; the model predicts that the overshoot is greatest in narrow channels when the bubble is driven with a large volume flux. It is also shown how the threshold pressure for steady bubble propagation in wide channels has distinct contributions from the capillary pressure drop across the bubble tip and viscous dissipation in the channel ahead of the bubble.

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