Monday, January 11, 2021

Movers and shakers: New evidence for a unifying theory of granular physics

Understanding the dynamics of granular materials — such as sand flowing through an hourglass or salt pouring through a shaker — is a major unsolved problem in physics. A new paper describes a pattern for how record-sized events affect the dynamics of a shaken granular material as it moves from an excited to a relaxed state, adding to the evidence that a unifying theory underlies this behavior. 

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published the work by Stefan Boettcher, an Emory theoretical physicist, and Paula Gago, an expert in modeling the statistical mechanics of granular matter in the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at the Imperial College of London. 

“Our work marks another small step forward to describing the behavior of granular materials in a uniform way,” says Boettcher, professor and chair of Emory’s Department of Physics. “A complete understanding of granular materials could have a huge impact on a range of industries,” he adds. 

“To name just a few examples, it’s relevant to the compaction of granules into pellets to make pills, the processing of grains in agriculture and to predict behaviors of all kinds of geophysical matter involved in civil engineering.”


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