Synopsis: Survival of the Fitter

Hard spheres may favor one structural arrangement over others that are less mechanically stable during assembly.
Synopsis figure
S. Heitkam et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. (2012)

A layer of dispersed spheres tends to pack in a triangular array. But to stack them in three dimensions, another layer can register with either of two sets of holes in the first layer. A third layer can then align with either the unused holes or with the spheres of the first layer. Repeating the first choice leads to a face-centered-cubic (fcc) structure, while the second choice leads to hexagonal close packing (hcp). Because the relationship of neighboring spheres is identical, neither arrangement (nor others) has an energy advantage. But in practice, spheres spontaneously adopt the fcc structure more frequently, as explained by Sascha Heitkam at the University of Paris-Sud in Orsay, France, and co-workers in Physical Review Letters.

The researchers simulated the assembly of a close-packed structure of spheres that either sink or float in a surrounding fluid, and also did corresponding experiments with buoyant bubbles and hard spheres. They identified a critical phase when a sphere appears on one layer before the previous layer is complete. If the spheres are in the hcp arrangement, incoming spheres push those in the next layer sideways, potentially ejecting them into unfilled regions. In contrast, in the fcc arrangement the force pushes the earlier spheres directly toward others on the layer below, so this structure can persist and seed further growth. Although the results depend on the detailed conditions, the authors suggest that this difference in stability may be important in many types of growth. – Don Monroe


Features

More Features »

Announcements

More Announcements »

Subject Areas

Fluid DynamicsMaterials Science

Previous Synopsis

Biological Physics

Group Mentality

Read More »

Next Synopsis

Nanophysics

A Noisy Junction

Read More »

Related Articles

Synopsis: Golden Mystery Solved
Materials Science

Synopsis: Golden Mystery Solved

A long-standing discrepancy between experiments and theory concerning the electronic properties of gold has now been resolved. Read More »

Focus: Nanochannel Could Separate Mixed Fluids
Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Nanochannel Could Separate Mixed Fluids

Calculations show that capillary forces affecting a fluid mixture flowing through a nanochannel could be used to separate the mixture. Read More »

Synopsis: Metamaterial Inverts the Hall Effect
Materials Science

Synopsis: Metamaterial Inverts the Hall Effect

A metamaterial that looks like chainmail has a Hall coefficient whose sign is flipped compared to the material it’s made from. Read More »

More Articles