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Scientists have discovered a way to solve a problem that has baffled humans for so long it is mentioned in the Bible: achieving the most efficient packing of objects such as grains and pharmaceutical drugs.
Lead researcher Dr Mohammad Saadatfar from The Australian National University (ANU) said the knowledge could be vital for building skyscrapers on sand, understanding how grains were stored in silos, or how drugs were packed and delivered to specific targets in the body.
Sand - Building - Materials - World - Drugs
"It's crazy - sand is one of the most common building materials in the world and drugs are often packed in the forms of pills, but we really don't understand how assembly of grains or pills behave," said Dr Saadatfar from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.
The international team of physicists and mathematicians used high-resolution CT scans to reveal how spherical particles in a disordered arrangement settle and compact themselves into ordered patterns.
Mechanisms - Transition - Packing - Grains - Structures
"Now we believe that we have uncovered the mechanisms underlying the transition from disordered packing of grains to ordered structures," he said.
"Whenever spheres - such as soccer balls, ball bearings or atoms - are packed into a space, the most efficient packing is in a very ordered pattern, known as face-centred cubic.
Sodium - Chloride - Atoms - Salt - Crystals
"Sodium and chloride atoms in salt crystals are also arranged and ordered that way."
When organised that way, the spheres had a minimum of gaps between them, taking up just over 74 per cent of the space, Dr Saadatfar said.
Spheres - Arrangement - Cent - Arrangement - Random
"However, when settling quickly, spheres don't naturally form that arrangement, reaching only 64 per cent at best, an arrangement known as random closed packing," he said.
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