Effects of shape and size polydispersity on strength properties of granular materials

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2015 Mar;91(3):032203. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.91.032203. Epub 2015 Mar 18.


By means of extensive contact dynamics simulations, we analyze the combined effects of polydispersity both in particle size and in particle shape, defined as the degree of shape irregularity, on the shear strength and microstructure of sheared granular materials composed of pentagonal particles. We find that the shear strength is independent of the size span, but unexpectedly, it declines with increasing shape polydispersity. At the same time, the solid fraction is an increasing function of both the size span and the shape polydispersity. Hence, the densest and loosest packings have the same shear strength. At the scale of the particles and their contacts, we analyze the connectivity of particles, force transmission, and friction mobilization as well as their anisotropies. We show that stronger forces are carried by larger particles and propped by an increasing number of small particles. The independence of shear strength with regard to size span is shown to be a consequence of contact network self-organization, with the falloff of contact anisotropy compensated by increasing force anisotropy.