Stably Jammed

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Granular materials like sand, gravel, and medications can become a rigid mass when squeezed or sheared. Even with a relatively loose packing, these materials can jam together to act like a solid if the contacts between grains no longer allow particles to shift or rotate. In this video, researchers explore how stable these jammed states are by repeatedly shearing the mixture and observing how it changes.

Most of the videos are set up as a triptych, where all three panels show the same material. On the left, you see a simple view showing the position of each particle. In the middle, the disks are viewed through polarized filters, so that the material looks brightest where it is stressed. This view lets us see the force chains that run through the material. On the right, UV-sensitive ink on each marker glows to show any rotation particles experience.

In the first sample, repeated shearing slowly unjams the mixture and allows it to shift and flow once more. We see this from the decreasing brightness in the middle panel. The slow fade to black means that the force chain network has disappeared entirely. In contrast, the second sample ultimately reaches an “ultra-stable” jammed state, in which further shear cycles cause no change to the network. Once again, this is easiest to observe in the middle image, where the bright force network stops changing after 2,000 cycles or so. (Image and video credit: Y. Zhao et al., research pre-print)

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