Granular materials, such as sand, gravel, powders, and pharmaceutical pills, are large aggregates of macroscopic, individually solid particles, or “grains.” Far from being simple materials with simple properties, they display an astounding range of complex behavior that defies their categorization as solid, liquid, or gas. Just consider how sand can stream through the orifice of an hourglass yet support one's weight on the beach; how it can form patterns strikingly similar to a liquid when vibrated, yet respond to stirring by “unmixing” of large and small grains. Despite much effort, there still is no comprehensive understanding of other forms of matter, like ordinary fluids or solids. In what way, therefore, is granular matter special, and what makes it so difficult to understand? An emerging interdisciplinary approach to answering these questions focuses directly on the material's discontinuous granular nature
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