Granular materials, like beads and sand, demonstrate both solid and fluid-like behaviors, which makes them difficult to study. Traditionally, one method for studying how fluids respond to deformation places the fluid in a ring-shaped cell with a rotating outer wall. That creates a uniform shear, as indicated by the red arrows above. For granular materials, though, this classic set-up usually breaks the grains up into two separate regions, one that behaves solidly and the other that behaves fluidly.
To get past that issue and study grains under truly uniform shear, researchers built a new version of the classic apparatus. In this new ring-shaped cell, the outer wall moves but so do independent concentric rings beneath the grains. This allows researchers to see how grains move under uniform shear (left) and what kinds of forces develop between jammed grains in the system (right). (Image and research credit: Y. Zhao et al.; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)