Jammed hard-particle packings: From Kepler to Bernal and beyond

S. Torquato, F. H. Stillinger

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Understanding the characteristics of jammed particle packings provides basic insights into the structure and bulk properties of crystals, glasses, and granular media and into selected aspects of biological systems. This review describes the diversity of jammed configurations attainable by frictionless convex nonoverlapping (hard) particles in Euclidean spaces and for that purpose it stresses individual-packing geometric analysis. A fundamental feature of that diversity is the necessity to classify individual jammed configurations according to whether they are locally, collectively, or strictly jammed. Each of these categories contains a multitude of jammed configurations spanning a wide and (in the large system limit) continuous range of intensive properties, including packing fraction φ, mean contact number Z, and several scalar order metrics. Application of these analytical tools to spheres in three dimensions (an analog to the venerable Ising model) covers a myriad of jammed states, including maximally dense packings (as Kepler conjectured), low-density strictly jammed tunneled crystals, and a substantial family of amorphous packings. With respect to the last of these, the current approach displaces the historically prominent but ambiguous idea of "random close packing" with the precise concept of "maximally random jamming." Both laboratory procedures and numerical simulation protocols can and, frequently, have been used for creation of ensembles of jammed states. But while the resulting distributions of intensive properties may individually approach narrow distributions in the large system limit, the distinguishing varieties of possible operational details in these procedures and protocols lead to substantial variability among the resulting distributions, some examples of which are presented here. This review also covers recent advances in understanding jammed packings of polydisperse sphere mixtures, as well as convex nonspherical particles, e.g., ellipsoids, "superballs," and polyhedra. Because of their relevance to error-correcting codes and information theory, sphere packings in high-dimensional Euclidean spaces have been included as well. Some remarks are also made about packings in (curved) non-Euclidean spaces. In closing this review, several basic open questions for future research to consider have been identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2633-2672
Number of pages40
JournalReviews of Modern Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 15 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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