Granular physics

Creating a dry variety of quicksand

An aerated form of sand engulfs objects instantaneously, shooting out a jet of grains.


Sand can normally support a weight by relying on internal force chains1,2,3. Here we weaken this force-chain structure in very fine sand by allowing air to flow through it: we find that the sand can then no longer support weight, even when the air is turned off and the bed has settled — a ball sinks into the sand to a depth of about five diameters. The final depth of the ball scales linearly with its mass and, above a threshold mass, a jet is formed that shoots sand violently into the air.

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Figure 1: Snapshots of the sinking-ball experiment.
Figure 2: The jet height, hjet (red circles), and the final depth of the ball, zfinal (blue diamonds), as functions of the ball mass, m.


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Detlef Lohse.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Movie: surface.mpg

Sphere initially touching the surface of the bed, released by burning the wire used to suspend the ball. (MPG 2074 kb)

Movie: surface2.mpg

As above., viewed from a different angle. (MPG 1863 kb)

Movie: hand.mpg

Sphere released by hand, giving an impression of the dimensions of the experiment. (MPG 1979 kb)

Supplementary Methods & Equations

Contains background material on the experiments and the model. (PDF 692 kb)

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Lohse, D., Rauhé, R., Bergmann, R. et al. Creating a dry variety of quicksand. Nature 432, 689–690 (2004).

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