The Strangeness of Sand

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Sand and other granular materials can flow, jam, and transmit forces in counterintuitive ways. This Lutetium Project video gives a nice overview of some of these bizarre properties.

Many of sand’s odd characteristics come from the way forces move through grains that touch. Around 5:20 there’s a demo of one of these effects: the Janssen effect. Using a scale, the video shows the mass of a bunch of grains. Then, the host pours those grains into a narrow cylinder. If you watch the scale, you’ll see that it shows a smaller mass than before. That’s not because of a difference in mass between the bowl and the cylinder; the scale is calibrated to only measure the mass of the grains. In the narrow cylinder the grains appear to weigh less because part of their weight is being supported by force chains that run to the container’s walls. (Image and video credit: The Lutetium Project)

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