Size segregation of irregular granular materials captured by time-resolved 3D imaging

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When opening a box of mixed nuts, a common experience is to find the largest nuts at the top. This well-known effect is the result of size-segregation where differently sized ‘particles’ sort themselves into distinct layers when shaken, vibrated or sheared. Colloquially this is known as the ‘Brazil-nut effect’. While there have been many studies into the phenomena, difficulties observing granular materials mean that we still know relatively little about the process by which irregular larger particles (the Brazil nuts) reach the top. Here, for the first time, we capture the complex dynamics of Brazil nut motion within a sheared nut mixture through time-lapse X-ray Computed Tomography (CT). We have found that the Brazil nuts do not start to rise until they have first rotated sufficiently towards the vertical axis and then ultimately return to a flat orientation when they
reach the surface. We also consider why certain Brazil nuts do not rise through the pack. This study highlights the important role of particle shape and orientation in segregation. Further, this ability to track the motion in 3D will pave the way for new experimental studies of segregating mixtures and will open the door to even more realistic simulations and powerful predictive models. Understanding the effect of size and shape on segregation has implications far beyond food products including various anti-mixing behaviors critical to many industries such as pharmaceuticals and mining.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8352
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date19 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


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