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A Taylor vortex analogy in granular flows


Fluids sheared between concentric rotating cylinders undergo a series of three-dimensional instabilities. Since Taylor's archetypal 1923 study1, these have proved pivotal to understanding how fluid flows become unstable and eventually undergo transitions to chaotic or turbulent states2,3,4,5. In contrast, predicting the dynamics of granular systems—from nano-sized particles to debris flows—is far less reliable. Under shear these materials resemble fluids, but solid-like responses, non-equilibrium structures and segregation patterns develop unexpectedly6,7,8,9. As a result, the analysis of geophysical events10 and the performance of largely empirical particle technologies might suffer11,12. Here, using gas fluidization to overcome jamming6,13, we show experimentally that granular materials develop vortices consistent with the primary Taylor instability in fluids. However, the vortices observed in our fluidized granular bed are unlike those in fluids in that they are accompanied by novel mixing–segregation transitions. The vortices seem to alleviate increased strain by spawning new vortices, directly modifying the scale of kinetic interactions. Our observations provide insights into the mechanisms of shear transmission by particles and their consequent convective mixing.

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Figure 1: Fluidized granular bed imaged through a transparent outer cylinder alongside vertical composition profiles.
Figure 2: Shear response of fluidized granular bed.
Figure 3: Evidence of Taylor vortices.


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We thank K. LaMarche, D. Brain, S. Shah, M. Ozbas, M. Clark, A. Alexander and D. Trinkle for assistance. This work was partly supported by NSF, ACS-PRF and NASA. S.L.C. thanks Merck & Co. for financial support during an educational leave of absence.

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Correspondence to Benjamin J. Glasser.

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Conway, S., Shinbrot, T. & Glasser, B. A Taylor vortex analogy in granular flows. Nature 431, 433–437 (2004).

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