We investigate purely elastic flow instabilities in the almost ideal planar stagnation point elongational flow field generated by a microfluidic optimized-shape cross-slot extensional rheometer (OSCER). We use time-resolved flow velocimetry and full-field birefringence microscopy to study the behavior of a series of well-characterized viscoelastic polymer solutions under conditions of low fluid inertia and over a wide range of imposed deformation rates. At low deformation rates the flow is steady and symmetric and appears Newtonian-like, while at high deformation rates we observe the onset of a flow asymmetry resembling the purely elastic instabilities reported in standard-shaped cross-slot devices. However, for intermediate rates, we observe a new type of elastic instability characterized by a lateral displacement and time-dependent motion of the stagnation point. At the onset of this new instability, we evaluate a well-known dimensionless criterion M that predicts the onset of elastic instabilities based on geometric and rheological scaling parameters. The criterion yields maximum values of M which compare well with critical values of M for the onset of elastic instabilities in viscometric torsional flows. We conclude that the same mechanism of tension acting along curved streamlines governs the onset of elastic instabilities in both extensional (irrotational) and torsional (rotational) viscoelastic flows.
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