Soil granular dynamics on-a-chip: fluidization inception under scrutiny
Predicting soil evolution remains a scientific challenge. This process involves poorly understood aspects of disordered granular matter and dense suspension dynamics. This study presents a novel two-dimensional experiment on a small-scale chip structure; this allows the observation of the deformation at the particle scale of a large-grained sediment bed, under conditions where friction dominates over cohesive and thermal forces, and with an imposed fluid flow. Experiments are performed under conditions which span the particle resuspension criterion, and particle motion is detected and analyzed. The void size population and statistics of particle trajectories bring insight into the sediment dynamics near fluidization conditions. Specifically, particle rearrangement and net bed compaction are observed at flow rates significantly below the criterion for instability growth. Above a threshold flowrate, a channel forms and grows in the vertical direction; and eventually it crosses the entire bed. In the range of flow rates where channelization can occur, the coexistence of compacting and dilating bed scenarios is observed. The results of the study enhance our capacity for modeling of both slow dynamics and eventual rapid destabilization of sediment beds. Microfluidic channel soil-on-a-chip studies open avenues to new investigations including dissolution–precipitation, fine particle transport, or micro-organism swimming and population growth, which may depend on the mechanics of the porous medium itself.