Instability Paths in the Kirchhoff–Plateau Problem

Giulio G. Giusteri, Giulio Giuseppe Giusteri, Paolo Franceschini, Eliot Fried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The Kirchhoff–Plateau problem concerns the equilibrium shapes of a system in which a flexible filament in the form of a closed loop is spanned by a soap film, with the filament being modeled as a Kirchhoff rod and the action of the spanning surface being solely due to surface tension. Adopting a variational approach, we define an energy associated with shape deformations of the system and then derive general equilibrium and (linear) stability conditions by considering the first and second variations of the energy functional. We analyze in detail the transition to instability of flat circular configurations, which are ground states for the system in the absence of surface tension, when the latter is progressively increased. Such a theoretical study is particularly useful here, since the many different perturbations that can lead to instability make it challenging to perform an exhaustive experimental investigation. We generalize previous results, since we allow the filament to possess a curved intrinsic shape and also to display anisotropic flexural properties (as happens when the cross section of the filament is noncircular). This is accomplished by using a rod energy which is familiar from the modeling of DNA filaments. We find that the presence of intrinsic curvature is necessary to obtain a first buckling mode which is not purely tangent to the spanning surface. We also elucidate the role of twisting buckling modes, which become relevant in the presence of flexural anisotropy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1097-1132
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Nonlinear Science
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Buckling analysis
  • Flexible boundary
  • Kirchhoff rod
  • Minimal surface
  • Shape energy


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