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In electrocoalescence, an electric field is applied to a dispersion of conducting water droplets in a poorly conducting oil to force the droplets to merge in the direction of the field. Electrocoalescence is used in petroleum refining to separate water from crude oil and in droplet-based microfluidics to combine droplets of water in oil and to break emulsions. Using a microfluidic design to generate a two-dimensional (2D) emulsion, we demonstrate that electrocoalescence in an opaque crude oil can be visualized with optical microscopy and studied on an individual droplet basis in a chamber whose height is small enough to make the dispersions two dimensional and transparent. From reconstructions of images of the 2D electrocoalescence, the electrostatic forces driving the droplet merging are calculated in a numerically exact manner and used to predict observed coalescence events. Hence, the direct simulation of the electrocoalescence-driven breakdown of 2D emulsions in microfluidic devices can be envisioned.


This work was originally published in ACS Omega, available at

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