Turning Sand Into a Fluid

Pumping air through a bed of sand can make the grains behave just like a liquid. This process is called fluidization. Air introduced at the bottom of the bed forces its way upward through the sand grains. With a high flow rate, the space between sand grains gets larger, eventually reaching a point where the aerodynamic forces on a grain of sand equal gravitational forces. At this point the sand grains are essentially suspended in the air flow and behave like a fluid themselves. Light, buoyant objects – like the red ball above – can float in the fluidized sand; heavier, denser objects will sink. Fluidization has many useful properties – like good mixing and large surface contact between solid and fluid phases – that make it popular in industrial applications. For a similar (but potentially less playful) process, check out soil liquefaction. (Image credits: R. Cheng, source; via Gizmodo; submitted by Justin)

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