How wet paper curls

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E. Reyssat and L. Mahadevan, How wet paper curls, EPL, 93 (2011) 54001


When a thin strip of tracing paper is gently placed on water surface, the paper curls and rolls up as water penetrates into the mass of the paper (see Fig. 1). The effect is due to differential swellings in the paper before it is homogeneously wetted throughout – an effect much similar to the behavior of a bimetallic thermostat when heated. As such, the authors attempted to explain the time-dependent curvature of the paper strip by using the classical theory of a bimetallic thermostat while wetting mechanism was assumed to be capillary imbibition. However, the authors found discrepancies between the experiment and theoretical predictions, and concluded that a simple bilayer model based on capillary action is inadequate. Rather, the authors posited that the wetting mechanism is due to molecular diffusion. The authors tested this assumption by introducing surfactant into the water. If the wetting mechanism were due to capillary action, curvature of the paper must be different in the presence of surfactant than in its absence. But the test showed that the curvature doesn't change with surfactant, indicating molecular diffusion to be the main actor at play. Writing down the diffusive equation for the water content <math>~\phi (z,t)</math>along the paper thickness <math>~z</math>

<math>\displaystyle \frac{\partial \phi}{\partial t} = \frac{\partial}{\partial z} \Big( D \frac{\partial \phi}{\partial z} \Big),

</math> the authors calculated the time-dependent water content and curvature, finding good agreement between the molecular theory predictions and experimental results at long time.