A simple, physical approximation is developed for the effect of viscosity for stable interfacial waves and for the unstable interfacial waves which correspond to Rayleigh‐Taylor instability. The approximate picture is rigorously justified for the interface between a heavy fluid (e.g., water) and a light fluid (e.g., air) with negligible dynamic effect. The approximate picture may also be rigorously justified for the case of two fluids for which the differences in density and viscosity are small. The treatment of the interfacial waves may easily be extended to the case where one of the fluids has a small thickness; that is, the case in which one of the fluids is bounded by a free surface or by a rigid wall. The theory is used to give an explanation of the bioconvective patterns which have been observed with cultures of microorganisms which have negative geotaxis. Since such organisms tend to collect at the surface of a culture and since they are heavier than water, the conditions for Rayleigh‐Taylor instability are met. It is shown that the observed patterns are quite accurately explained by the theory. Similar observations with a viscous liquid loaded with small glass spheres are described. A behavior similar to the bioconvective patterns with microorganisms is found and the results are also explained quantitatively by Rayleigh‐Taylor instability theory for a continuous medium with viscosity.

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