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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Granular Patterns" by Igor S. Aranson and Lev S. Tsimring

This book starts of with--surprise, surprise--defining and explaining what granular patterns are. However, the authors get straight to the point and introduce proper vocabulary and theories. The reader is treated as competent enough to follow along, but they never feel as if the book is too slow; the pace is proper. The authors use easy-to-visualize examples to explain concepts. One such is the Brazilian nut effect that the authors explain with--you guessed it--a picture of nuts in a jar alongside glass beads in a jar.

Many applications are discussed. Some are avalanche, bacteria patterns, cell movement under certain conditions, extraterrestrial craters, sand dunes / piles, and more. After the interest is piqued, the math is introduced. It seems as though many of the equations are meant to be fed into a computer, but the authors still introduce what the equations mean for general understanding.

Some other topics discussed include different types of materials for substrates. Periodicity and frequency comes into play, too. Gravity-driven flow is inserted, and the authors admit where there is a theory that is still not quite understood by the scientific granular community. Boundary layers, complex interactions, and movement is touched upon, as well. Some statistics come into play with probability, but readers need not have a background in in to follow along. Experimental and simulated results are compared side-by-side when appropriate.

The appearance of this book is rather nice. The hardcover is not too heavy, being under 500 pages. Also, the green and tan cover with an example of granular patterns conveys precocity without an air of literary arrogance. The pages have a nice glossy feel to them, and the content is black-and-white. Pictures are plentiful, and all diagrams / charts / graphs are explained with proper paragraphs and captions.

The audience for this book struck me as for readers at the research level. This could be undergraduate research programs, graduate school projects, or just research professors are working on. The information given is presented in such a manner that any technical reader will enjoy it for a leisurely read. However, there is enough technical data in this book to be used as a primary source is research. While notations and symbols are explained, not all of the math is. Readers are expected to have a good grasp of vector calculus, differential calculus, and multivariable equations.

While this book can be considered a classical textbook, I feel it is better than that. While it is meant to teach readers about granular patterns, it has a one-up on other textbooks because it is so well presented. Pages fly by and are actually fun--a term not many working scientists and engineers see in texts. Additionally, there is a CD-rom included in the back of the book. It has a plethora (not using the word lightly) of movies. Some are molecular dynamics simulations, whilst others are from experimentalists physically setting up scenarios (evidence is from the black-and-white hands entering the foreground every now and then).

Overall, I have nothing but positive things to say about this book. I've always considered granular patterns to be simply under the scope of materials science. However, I've learned that this topic is very interdisciplinary. It covers computer science, mathematics, environmental science, physics, and--my favorite as an aeronautical engineer--fluid dynamics.

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