Granular materials such as sand have long been a subject of interest for scientists due to their unique properties. While we can easily walk on solid sand at the beach, the same sand grains can flow like a liquid in an hourglass. This duality of behavior has intrigued researchers for years. In a recent study by scientists from the University of Amsterdam and Santiago in Chile, new granular materials have been designed that exhibit both compressibility and flow properties, opening up new possibilities for applications like shock dampening.

Along the coast of Japan, one can find tetrapods – massive concrete blocks with four legs that are used to prevent erosion of coastal structures. These tetrapods form a granular metamaterial, which mimics the behavior of sand but with a human-made design. The unique shape of tetrapods, with extended legs, makes them highly resistant to flow. This example illustrates how it is relatively easy to create granular systems that are incompressible and flow poorly. However, creating a material that is both easy to compress and flows better than sand has proven to be a challenge.

The recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by the team of researchers has shed light on this challenge. By designing grains that shrink radially under external pressure, the researchers were able to create a granular material that is highly compressible and flows like a liquid. This innovative approach has the potential to revolutionize how we think about granular materials and their applications.

One of the key applications of the new granular materials is in shock dampening. The researchers demonstrated that a metal disk, when dropped into a packing of the new grains, experiences a slow deceleration and minimal bounce back. This means that the energy of the disk’s motion is efficiently absorbed and dissipated by the granular material. Imagine the implications of this in scenarios such as speed skating races, where the use of these new grains could reduce the impact on the skater in case of a fall.

The research on designing new granular materials with unique properties opens up a world of possibilities in various fields. By combining creativity and scientific principles, scientists are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with granular materials. The potential applications in shock dampening are just the beginning of how these new materials could impact our lives. As we continue to explore the properties of granular materials, we may uncover even more innovative uses and technologies that were previously thought to be impossible.


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