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Mark Shattuck
Associate Professor of Physics

Granular Media: Experimental Kinetic Theory


Granular materials are collections of particles, such as grains in a silo. They can measure mere microns, as in pharmaceutical powders, or hundreds of meters, as in the giant particles which constitute the rings of Saturn. A fundamental understanding of granular systems, comparable to the current understanding of fluids and solids, does not exist, and that is what Mark Shattuck is working towards.

Dr. Shattuck studies flowing granular material using a combination of laboratory experiments, molecular dynamics, and numeric integration of continuum models. His goal is a predictive model such as exists for gases and fluids. Whereas gases and fluids are systems in equilibrium, where an equal exchange of energy occurs between the system and its environment, granular flows, which constantly dissipate energy through friction or collisions between particles, are in nonequilibrium. “The basic assumptions used to derive current theories of granular flow are similar to those of normal fluids but are clearly violated for some granular systems,” says Dr. Shattuck. “The goal of my experiments is to determine the conditions under which these theories can be used to calculate accurate results and to extend the theories to encompass a broader range of situations.”

The problems Dr. Shattuck is tackling in his research are of vital importance to many industries such as energy production, food processing, and pharmaceuticals. “The energy industry, for instance, spends $1 trillion a year processing granular materials, so increasing efficiency by even one per cent would lead to enormous savings,” says Dr. Shattuck. “The implications for quality control in the pharmaceutical industry are huge.”

Dr. Shattuck holds a Ph.D. in physics from Duke University. He did postdoctoral work in Magnetic Resonance Imaging at Duke’s Center for In Vivo Microscopy and in granular materials at the University of Texas’s Center for Nonlinear Dynamics. He conducts his research in City College’s prestigious Levich Institute, which brings together outstanding minds in physics and chemical engineering from CCNY and other institutions.

“Though the theoretical issues I am addressing are complex, the simple visual nature of many of my experiments creates an ideal opportunity to incorporate my research into the undergraduate and graduate science curriculum,” says Dr. Shattuck. Under his CAREER award, he will create a combination of individual research opportunities for his students, an advanced research methods course, and a granular materials course.

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