Inserted: 10 mar 2023
This paper addresses the ill-posedness of the classical Rayleigh variational model of conducting charged liquid drops by incorporating the discreteness of the elementary charges. Introducing the model that describes two immiscible fluids with the same dielectric constant, with a drop of one fluid containing a fixed number of elementary charges together with their solvation spheres, we interpret the equilibrium shape of the drop as a global minimizer of the sum of its surface energy and the electrostatic repulsive energy between the charges under fixed drop volume. For all model parameters, we establish existence of generalized minimizers that consist of at most a finite number of components ``at infinity''. We also give several existence and non-existence results for classical minimizers consisting of only a single component. In particular, we identify an asymptotically sharp threshold for the number of charges to yield existence of minimizers in a regime corresponding to macroscopically large drops containing a large number of charges. The obtained non-trivial threshold is significantly below the corresponding threshold for the Rayleigh model, consistently with the ill-posedness of the latter and demonstrating a particular regularizing effect of the charge discreteness. However, when a minimizer does exist in this regime, it approaches a ball with the charge uniformly distributed on the surface as the number of charges goes to infinity, just as in the Rayleigh model. Finally, we provide an explicit solution for the problem with two charges and a macroscopically large drop.