Depletion forces drive polymer-like self-assembly in vibrofluidized granular materials

Jennifer Galanis*, Ralph Nossal, Daniel Harries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Ranging from nano- to granular-scales, control of particle assembly can be achieved by limiting the available free space, for example by increasing the concentration of particles (crowding) or through their restriction to 2D environments. It is unclear, however, if self-assembly principles governing thermally equilibrated molecules can also apply to mechanically excited macroscopic particles in non-equilibrium steady-state. Here we show that low densities of vibrofluidized steel rods, when crowded by high densities of spheres and confined to quasi-2D planes, can self-assemble into linear polymer-like structures. Our 2D Monte Carlo simulations show similar finite sized aggregates in thermally equilibrated binary mixtures. Using theory and simulations, we demonstrate how depletion interactions create oriented "binding" forces between rigid rods to form these "living polymers." Unlike rod-sphere mixtures in 3D that can demonstrate well-defined equilibrium phases in coexistence, our mixtures confined to 2D lack these transitions because lower dimensionality favors the formation of linear aggregates, thus suppressing a true phase transition. The qualitative and quantitative agreement between equilibrium and granular patterning for these mixtures suggests that entropy maximization is the determining driving force for bundling. Furthermore, this study uncovers a previously unknown patterning behavior at both the granular and nanoscales, and may provide insights into the role of crowding at interfaces in molecular assembly.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1026-1034
Number of pages9
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010


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