Segregation and pattern formation in dilute granular media

under microgravity conditions

 E. Opsomer1, M. Noirhomme1, N. Vandewalle1, E. Falcon2 and S. Merminod2
1 Université de Liège, GRASP, Unité de Recherche CESAM, B-4000 Liège, Belgium
2 Université Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, MSC, CNRS, UMR 7057, F-75 013 Paris, France

Reference:  Nature PJ Microgravity 3, 1 (2017) - Brief Comm. (

DOI:  10.1038/s41526-016-0009-1
PACS: Physical sciences/Materials science/Soft materials
            Physical sciences/Physics/Statistical physics, thermodynamics and nonlinear dynamics


Space exploration and exploitation face a major challenge: the handling of granular materials in low-gravity environments. Indeed, grains behave quite differently in space than on Earth, and the dissipative nature of the collisions between solid particles leads to clustering. Within poly-disperse materials, the question of segregation is highly relevant but has not been addressed so far in microgravity. From parabolic flight experiments on dilute binary granular media, we show that clustering can trigger a segregation mechanism, and we observe, for the first time, the formation of layered structures in the bulk.

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