Emergence of structure in columns of grains and elastic loops

A Guerra and DP Holmes, SOFT MATTER, 17, 7662-7669 (2021).

DOI: 10.1039/d1sm00787d

It is possible to build free-standing, load-bearing structures using only rocks and loops of elastic material. We investigate how these structures emerge, and find that the necessary maximum loop spacing (the critical spacing) is a function of the frictional properties of the grains and the elasticity of the confining material. We derive a model to understand both of these relationships, which depends on a simplification of the behavior of the grains at the edge of a structure. We find that higher friction leads to larger stable grain-grain and grain-loop contact angles resulting in a simple function for the frictional critical spacing, which depends linearly on friction to first order. On the other hand, a higher bending rigidity enables the loops to better contain the hydrostatic pressure of the grains, which we understand using a hydroelastic scale. These findings will illuminate the stabilization of dirt by plant roots, and potentially enable the construction of simple adhesion-less structures using only granular material and fiber.

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