Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Why anyone can make a sandcastle

14.02.2008
Max Planck researcher from Göttingen achieve a high level of understanding of the complex structure of moist granules

Anyone trying to build sandcastles on the beach will need some degree of skill and imagination, but not an instruction manual. The water content is actually relatively unimportant to the mechanical properties of the sand.


X-ray microtomography of a dense fluid cluster consisting of spherical glass beads (0.8 millimetres in diameter). Image: Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation

This observation, which is borne out by precise measurements in the laboratory, puzzles researchers. Even with water content of just 3%, the fluid inside represents a highly-complex structure. The mechanical stiffness of the wet sand remains practically constant with moisture ranging from less than 1% to well over 10%, although the fluid structure changes enormously internally.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation in Göttingen, the Australia National University in Canberra, the University of Erlangen, and the ESRF in Grenoble have studied the fluid structures in moist granules using x-ray microtomography to discover their laws (Nature Materials, online publication of February 10, 2008).

In medicine, x-ray microtomography is also known as computer tomography. Scientists x-ray an object from various angles to produce an outline image similar to a standard x-ray. A computer evaluates all of these images and determines which kind of three-dimensional structure the object must have to produce the outline images. When scientists use a bright x-ray source, such as the synchrotron source of radiation at the ESRF in Grenoble, computer tomography is produced with a resolution of thousandths of a millimetre. That is sufficient to resolve the tiny, highly-complex fluid structures that form in a moist granule, like inside a sandcastle for example.

What the research team saw was initially quite astonishing. The fluid did not fully push through the granulate structure and therefore did not force the air out of the interstitial space. More significantly, a filigree structure emerged in which the fluid, grains and air existed equally side by side. The reason for this is easy to understand. As the fluid moistens the grains (it would not otherwise be possible to get them into the granule), it tries to surround itself with as much "grain" as possible. This is best achieved at the points of contact where two grains touch. The "empty" space in between is relatively unattractive for the fluid and fills with air.

When the Göttingen scientists then carried out a more exact study of the geometry of these filigree fluid structures, they established that not only did they all have the same pressure, but that the pressure had to be independent of the fluid content. This explains the universal stiffness of the material. The equal pressure corresponds to an equal force inside and therefore results in the moist granules having the same mechanical properties. "These properties are not only significant to the building of sandcastles," said Stephan Herminghaus, the head of the study. "They are relevant to the pharmaceutical and food-production industries and help us to understand certain natural catastrophes, such as landslides. Wet granules are relevant in many fields and we now have a better understanding of their mechanical properties."

Original work:
M. Scheel, R. Seemann, M. Brinkmann, M. DiMichiel, A. Sheppard, B. Breidenbach, S. Herminghaus
Morphological clues to wet granular pile stability
Nature Materials, March edition 2008 Online publication at http://www.nature.com/nmat/index.html

Dr. Bernd Wirsing | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Further information:
http://www.mpg.de/english/

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Siberian scientists suggested a new method for synthesizing a promising magnetic material
23.01.2018 | Siberian Federal University

nachricht Complex tessellations, extraordinary materials
23.01.2018 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Optical Nanoscope Allows Imaging of Quantum Dots

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.

Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'

23.01.2018 | Life Sciences

Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Transportable laser

23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>