Statistical mechanics for static granular media: open questions
The theoretical description of granular materials, or assemblies of macroscopic particles, is a formidable task. Not only are granular materials out of thermal equilibrium, but they are also characterized by dissipative interactions and by static friction. Following a suggestion by S. F. Edwards, researchers have investigated the possible existence of a statistical mechanics of static granular systems, which would permit the description of macroscopic properties of mechanically stable granular assemblies from just a few parameters. The formulation and the validity of such an approach is still a matter of debate. This “emerging area” focuses on three important questions concerning such a statistical mechanics approach. First, we consider how the phase space of interest is affected by the requirement of mechanical stability. Second, we explore how the intensive parameters analogous to temperature can be determined from experimental or numerical data. Finally, we contrast different ways to express the granular counterpart to the classical Hamiltonian, known as the volume function.