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Published February 2023 | public
Journal Article

What is shape? Characterizing particle morphology with genetic algorithms and deep generative models


Engineered granular materials have gained considerable interest in recent years. For this substance, the primary design variable is grain shape. Optimizing grain form to achieve a macroscopic property is difficult due to the infinite-dimensional function space particle shape inhabits. Nonetheless, by parameterizing morphology the dimension of the problem can be reduced. In this work, we study the effects of both intuitive and machine-picked shape descriptors on granular material properties. First, we investigate the effect of classical shape descriptors (roundness, convexity, and aspect ratio) on packing fraction ϕ and coordination number Z. We use a genetic algorithm to generate a uniform sampling of shapes across these three shape parameters. The shapes are then simulated in the level set discrete element method. We discover that both ϕ and Z decrease with decreasing convexity, and Z increases with decreasing aspect ratio across the large sampling of morphologies—including among highly non-convex grains not commonly found in nature. Further, we find that subtle changes in mesoscopic properties can be attributed to a continuum of geometric phenomena, including tessellation, hexagonal packing, nematic order and arching. Nonetheless, such descriptors alone can not entirely describe a shape. Thus, we find a set of 20 descriptors which uniquely define a morphology via deep generative models. We show how two of these machine-derived parameters affect ϕ and Z. This methodology can be leveraged for topology optimization of granular materials, with applications ranging from robotic grippers to materials with tunable mechanical properties.

Additional Information

This work was supported by Army grant W911NF-19-1-0245. Part of a collection: Physics-informed artificial intelligence for granular matter

Additional details

August 22, 2023
October 24, 2023