Breaking Ground

Blue-dyed grains are broken up by branching fingers of tan

Pushing a fluid into a porous granular material can fracture it into branching, lightning-like patterns. Here, air is injected into wet grains as a laboratory analog to hydrocarbon extraction or fracturing to treat contaminated soil. The injection of air compacts grains along the branch boundaries, keeping individual branches separated from one another. The patterns that form change with grain shape and ultimately result from the interactions of pressure, surface tension, friction and viscous forces. Studies like these help optimize fluid flow, decontaminate polluted soil faster, and determine risk in gas-driven fracturing of hydrocarbon reservoirs. (Image and video credit: J. Campbell et al.; submitted by B. Sandnes)

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