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Heterogeneous cavitation from atomically smooth liquid–liquid interfaces


Pressure reduction in liquids may result in vaporization and bubble formation—a process known as cavitation. It is commonly observed in hydraulic machinery, ship propellers and even in the context of medical therapy within the human body. Although cavitation may be beneficial for the removal of malign tissue, in many cases it is unwanted due to its ability to erode nearly any material in close contact. The current understanding is that the origins of heterogeneous cavitation are nucleation sites where stable gas cavities reside, for example, on contaminant particles, submerged surfaces or shell-stabilized microscopic bubbles1,2. Here we present the discovery of an atomically smooth interface between two immiscible liquids acting as a nucleation site. The non-polar liquid has a higher gas solubility and, upon pressure reduction, it acts as a gas reservoir as gas accumulates at the interface. We describe experiments that reveal the formation of cavitation on non-polar droplets in contact with water, and elucidate the working mechanism that leads to the nucleation of gas pockets through simulations.

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Fig. 1: Cavitation in a thin liquid gap and experimental snapshots of secondary cavitation with different cavitation nuclei.
Fig. 2: Density profiles of the simulation sample.
Fig. 3: Experimental set-up for secondary cavitation inception and observation in a thin liquid gap.
Fig. 4: Snapshot of the computational sample at −20 MPa.

Data availability

The authors declare that data supporting the findings of this study are available within the Paper and its Supplementary Information. The original experimental recordings are available on Zenodo at

Code availability

Codes used for the present simulations are community codes available to any reader free of charges, namely the LAMMPS molecular dynamics software.


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M. Pumera is acknowledged for providing the magnetic beads. We thank A. Eremin for the confocal thickness measurements. This work was financially supported by the European Social Fund (no. ZS/2019/10/103050) as part of the initiative ‘Sachsen-Anhalt WISSENSCHAFT Spitzenforschung/Synergien’, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (programme no. PF 951/3-1), the ‘Fondo per l’incentivazione alla ricerca (FIR), 2020’ from the University of Ferrara in Italy, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement UCOM no. 813766.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.-D.O. designed the study, R.S. selected the inclusion, and P.P. performed the experiments and analysed the data. S.M. designed the simulation campaign. M.S. performed the simulations with the help of M.T. S.M., M.S., M.T. and C.M.C. analysed the simulation data. P.P. and S.M. and R.H. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results, read, revised and approved the final version.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Patricia Pfeiffer or Simone Meloni.

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Nature Physics thanks Shu Takagi, John Ralston, Nathan Speirs and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–7 and Discussion.

Supplementary Video 1

A 1-ns branch of the atomistic sample of the MD trajectory at −20 MPa.

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Pfeiffer, P., Shahrooz, M., Tortora, M. et al. Heterogeneous cavitation from atomically smooth liquid–liquid interfaces. Nat. Phys. 18, 1431–1435 (2022).

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