granular material

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A drop of water that impacts a flat post will form a liquid sheet that eventually breaks apart into droplets when surface tension can no longer hold the water together against the power of momentum flinging the water outward. But what happens if that initial drop of water is filled with particles? Initially, the particle-laden drop’s impact is similar to the water’s – it strikes the post and expands radially in a sheet that is uniformly filled with particles. But then the particles begin to cluster due to capillary attraction, which causes particles at a fluid interface to clump up. You’ve seen the same effect in a bowl of Cheerios, when the floating O’s start to group up in little rafts. The clumping creates holes in the sheet which rapidly expand until the liquid breaks apart into many particle-filled droplets. To see more great high-speed footage and comparisons, check out the full video.  (Image credit and submission: A. Sauret et al., source)

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Sand dunes form with a gentle incline facing the wind and a steeper slip face pointing away from the wind. Most slip faces are angled at about 30 to 34 degrees–called the angle of repose. The shape is determined by the dune’s ability to support its own weight; add more sand and it will cascade down the slip face in a miniature avalanche. Similarly, if you disturb sand on the slip face by digging a hole at the base, you get the cascading collapse seen in this video. By removing sand, the dune’s equilibrium is broken and it can no longer support its weight. This makes sand flow down the slip face until enough is shifted that the dune can support itself. Being a granular material, the sand itself appears to flow much like a fluid, with waves, ripples and all. (Video credit: M. Meier; submitted by Boris M.)

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Researchers develop exoskeleton device for walking efficiency - Check it out!

Science Now 33-In this week’s episode we learn about an app to detect depression, walking efficiency, how babies learn from surprise and finally we explore how high-tech tools are helping researcher better understand how granular materials like snow and sand behave.

By: National Science Foundation.

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Vibrating particles or granular materials can produce many fluid-like behaviors. In this video, researchers demonstrate how a granular gas made up of particles of two sizes behaves at different conditions. By tweaking the amplitude of the vibration, they alter how the particles cluster in a divided container. At large vibrational amplitudes, the particles behave much like a gas–energetic and spread out. At lower amplitudes, though, the particle density and the number of particle collisions increases. Each collision dissipates some of a particle’s energy; more collisions means less energy available to escape. As a result, the particles cluster, forming an attractor that draws in additional particles over time. (Video credit: R. Mikkelson et al.)

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Sometimes the similarity between fluid flow and granular flows is quite striking. This video shows a stream of sand falling down a tube and impacting a rod. (Note: the view is rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, so down points to the right.) As the sand strikes the rod, it’s deflected into a conical sheet, very much like a water bell. There are even ripple-like instabilities that form in the granular sheet, though they move differently than in a liquid due to the sand’s lack of surface tension. (Video credit: S. Nagel et al.)

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Many of us have played with sand art–the rotating frames filled with water, sand, and air. In this video, Shanks FX demonstrates some of the realistic and surrealistic landscapes you can create using this toy. It also makes for a neat fluid dynamics demonstration. The buoyancy of the trapped air bubbles lets the sand sift slowly down instead of falling immediately. And the sand descends in a variety of ways–sometimes laminar columns and other times wilder turbulent plumes. (Video credit and submission: Shanks FX/PBS Digital Studios)

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When a fluid is vibrated, instabilities can form along its surface. With a sufficient amplitude, voids form inside the fluid and their collapse leads to a jet that shoots out from the fluid. A very different process leads to air cavities forming in a vibrated granular medium, but the jets produced are remarkably similar, as seen in this video. (Video credit: M. Sandtke et al.)

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Here a container filled with a suspension of neutrally buoyant polystyrene beads and fluid is rotated. As the container rotates, a thin layer of fluid and bunches of particles get drawn up onto the wall by capillary forces capable of holding the particles in place even if the container stops rotating. The density and patterning of the particles on the wall depends on the container’s rotation speed and the volume fraction of particles. (Video credit: J. Kao and A. Hosoi)

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In a stream of falling liquid, surface tension instabilities cause the fluid to break up into droplets. This video shows a similar experiment with a stream of glass beads, a granular material. The whole system is housed under a vacuum to eliminate the effects of air drag on the stream, and a camera rides alongside the stream to track the evolution of the falling material in a Lagrangian fashion. As with a liquid stream, we see the granular flow develop undulations as it falls, ultimately breaking up into clusters of beads. The authors suggest that nanoscale surface roughness and van der Waals forces may be responsible for the clustering behavior in the absence of surface tension. (Video credit: J. Royer et al.)

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This high-speed video captures the impact of liquid droplets onto a granular surface. While there is some similarity to liquid-solid and liquid-liquid impacts, the permeability of the granular surface helps to “freeze” the splash rather quickly. Energy is dissipated in the initial impact, causing a splash of grains.  Then the surface tension, viscosity and inertia of the droplet compete in causing the deformations seen in the video. The deformation appears strongly dependent on the kinetic energy with which the droplet hits the surface (i.e. proportional to the height from which it is dropped). (Video credit: G. Delan et al)

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Granular flows, which are made up of loose particles like sand, often display remarkably fluid-like behavior. Here researchers explore the behavior of granular flows when a solid impacts them at high speed. The sand, unlike a fluid, does not have surface tension, yet we still observe many of the same behaviors. Like a fluid, the sand splashes and creates cavities and jets as it deforms around the fallen object. The sand even “erupts” as submerged pockets of air make their way back to the surface.

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Humans often trigger avalanches purposefully before natural ones can occur. Either way, avalanches begin when external stresses on the snow pack exceed the strength within the snow pack or at the contact between the snow and the ground. Acceleration of the snow is gravity-driven. If the snow mixes with air, powder clouds can form that carry snow even further than the main slab. Although the snow itself is not a fluid, once an avalanche gets moving, its behavior can be better modeled as a fluid than as a solid.