Drop by drop: Kudrolli physics lab builds landmark research on sand

A research paper by Clark University Professor Arshad Kudrolli, chair of the Physics Department and Jan and Larry Landry University Professor, and post-doctoral research associate Julien Chopin, titled “Building Designed Granular Towers One Drop at a Time,” recently scored a science-publication hat trick of sorts, highlighted not only in Physical Review Letters (Editor’s Suggestion) but also in Science (Editor's Choice: “Not So Faulty Towers”) and Nature (Research Highlights: “Towers grow by drips and drops”).

From Nature: “Reminiscent of children building castles at the beach by dripping wet sand from their fist, researchers in Massachusetts have created their own slender towers by dripping a suspension of glass beads in a water–glycerine mixture over a granular surface. … The researchers suggest that the technique could be an alternative route to surface patterning and three-dimensional printing.”

Scientific American’s Cocktail Party Physics columnist Jennifer Ouellette also cites the scholars’ experiments. In “Of Granular Material and Singing Sands,” the self-professed “science geek” wrote: “Sand is pretty fascinating stuff, from a physics standpoint. You can build far more stable and intricate sand castle designs if you have a fundamental grasp of these basic principles. And if you’re Arshad Kudrolli of Clark University, you can exploit the physics of granular media to build all kinds of unusual slender structures. ... building so-called ‘granular towers,’ drop by meticulous drop.”

Kudrolli’s research uses both two- and three-dimensional imaging techniques and includes a broad range of topics including soft-condensed matter physics, granular materials, nonlinear physics, geomorphology, biomechanics, and elasticity and crumpling, population dynamics, and patterns in biological systems. Kudrolli has received many grants and has published more than 50 peer-reviewed papers. He has led the creation of the Active Matter Group at Clark and is currently on the advisory committee for the NanoWorcester Group.

Kudrolli joined the Clark faculty in 1997 and became a full professor in 2008. He chairs the Physics Department, where he has helped foster active learning pedagogies in department course offerings, and he has also served on major university committees. A Fellow of the American Physical Society, Kudrolli has been a visiting professor at the University of Liege in Belgium and a visiting scholar at MIT.

Chopin began working with Kudrolli as a postdoctoral research associate in January 2011. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Université Paris VI Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris), and earned his Ph.D. at the Ecole Normale Superieures (Paris) in 2010.  His work focuses on fracture mechanics, elasticity of thin objects and granular physics.