In this work we consider the nonlinear stability of thin films in the presence of electric fields. We study a perfectly conducting thin film flow down an inclined plane in the presence of an electric field which is uniform in its undisturbed state, and normal to the plate at infinity. In addition, the effect of normal electric fields on films lying above, or hanging from, horizontal substrates is considered. Systematic asymptotic expansions are used to derive fully nonlinear long wave model equations for the scaled interface motion and corresponding flow fields. For the case of an inclined plane, higher order terms are need to be retained to regularize the problem in the sense that the long wave approximation remains valid for long times. For the case of a horizontal plane the fully nonlinear evolution equation which is derived at the leading order, is asymptotically correct and no regularization procedure is required. In both physical situations, the effect of the electric field is to introduce a non-local term which arises from the potential region above the liquid film, and enters through the electric Maxwell stresses at the interface. This term is always linearly destabilizing and produces growth rates proportional to the cubic power of the wavenumber - surface tension is included and provides a short wavelength cut-off, that is, all sufficiently short waves are linearly stable.
For the case of film flow down an inclined plane, the fully nonlinear equation can produce singular solutions (for certain parameter values) after a finite time, even in the absence of an electric field. This difficulty is avoided at smaller amplitudes where the weakly nonlinear evolution is governed by an extension of the Kuramoto-Sivashinsky (KS) equation. Global existence and uniqueness results are proved, and refined estimates of the radius of the absorbing ball in L2 are obtained in terms of the parameters of the equations for a generalized class of modified KS equations. The established estimates are compared with numerical solutions of the equations which in turn suggest an optimal upper bound for the radius of the absorbing ball. A scaling argument is used to explain this, and a general conjecture is made based on extensive computations. We also carry out a complete study of the nonlinear behavior of competing physical mechanisms: long wave instability above a critical Reynolds number, short wave damping due to surface tension and intermediate growth due to the electric field. Through a combination of analysis and extensive numerical experiments, we elucidate parameter regimes that support non-uniform travelling waves, time-periodic travelling waves and complex nonlinear dynamics including chaotic interfacial oscillations. It is established that a sufficiently high electric field will drive the system to chaotic oscillations, even when the Reynolds number is smaller than the critical value below which the non-electrified problem is linearly stable. A particular case of this is Stokes flow, which is known to be stable for this class of problems (an analogous statement holds for horizontally supported films also). Our theoretical results indicate that such highly stable flows can be rendered unstable by using electric fields. This opens the way for possible heat and mass transfer applications which can benefit significantly from interfacial oscillations and interfacial turbulence.
For the case of a horizontal plane, a weakly nonlinear theory is not possible due to the absence of the shear flow generated by the gravitational force along the plate when the latter is inclined. We study the fully nonlinear equation, which in this case is asymptotically correct and is obtained at the leading order. The model equation describes both overlying and hanging films - in the former case gravity is stabilizing while in the latter it is destabilizing. The numerical and theoretical analysis of the fully nonlinear evolution is complicated by the fact that the coefficients of the highest order terms (surface tension in this instance) are nonlinear. We implement a fully implicit two level numerical scheme and perform numerical experiments. We also prove global boundedness of positive periodic smooth solutions, using an appropriate energy functional. This global boundedness result is seenin all our numerical results. Through a combination of analysis and extensive numerical experiments we present evidence for global existence of positive smooth solutions. This means, in turn, that the film does not touch the wall in finite time but asymptotically at infinite time. Numerical solutions are presented to support such phenomena.