Self-assembly in a near-frictionless granular material: conformational structures and transitions in uniaxial cyclic compression of hydrogel spheres
We use a Markov transition matrix-based analysis to explore the structures and structural transitions in a three-dimensional assembly of hydrogel spheres under cyclic uniaxial compression. We apply these methods on experimental data obtained from a packing of nearly frictionless hydrogel balls. This allows an exploration of the emergence and evolution of mesoscale internal structures — a key micromechanical property that governs self-assembly and self-organization in dense granular media. To probe the mesoscopic force network structure, we consider two structural state spaces: (i) a particle and its contacting neighbours, and (ii) a particle's local minimal cycle topology summarized by a cycle vector. In both spaces, our analysis of the transition dynamics reveals which structures and which sets of structures are most prevalent and most likely to transform into each other during the compression/decompression of the material. In compressed states, structures rich in 3-cycle or triangle topologies form in abundance. In contrast, in uncompressed states, transitions comprising poorly connected structures are dominant. An almost-invariant transition set within the cycle vector space is discovered that identifies an intermediate set of structures crucial to the material's transition from weakly jammed to strongly jammed, and vice versa. Preferred transition pathways are also highlighted and discussed with respect to thermo-micro-mechanical constitutive formulations.