New insight into cavitation mechanisms in high-capacity tensiometers based on high-speed photography

J. Mendes, O. Buzzi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


The high-capacity tensiometer developed by Ridley and Burland in 1993 is a milestone in experimental unsaturated soil mechanics. This device, which relies on development of tension in an enclosed water body, permits direct measurement of negative water potential. Many tensiometers have been built since 1993, all being based on the same principle although the design may differ slightly from the original. In particular, the common characteristic is a very small water reservoir that is believed to be the location of bubble nucleation, a phenomenon referred to as cavitation that impedes the sensor from functioning properly. Many have studied cavitation and different explanations or cavitation mechanisms have been proposed. However, all the considerations put forward were derived without being able to capture what happened inside the water reservoir at cavitation. This is now achieved with the new tensiometer specifically designed to "see" inside the water reservoir during suction measurement. For the first time, cavitation has been captured via high-speed photography and the mechanisms of cavitation can be explained using physical evidence. The first outcome is that it is possible for a high-capacity tensiometer to function to its full range with a large water reservoir. Then, the analysis of high-speed photographs reveals that the bubbles triggering cavitation are nucleated in the ceramic and make their way to the water reservoir. Cavitation occurs only when the air phase reaches the water reservoir.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-556
Number of pages7
JournalCanadian Geotechnical Journal
Issue number5
Early online date29 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013


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