Jamming II: Edwards' statistical mechanics of random packings of hard spheres

Ping Wang, Chaoming Song, Yuliang Jin, Hernn A. Makse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The problem of finding the most efficient way to pack spheres has an illustrious history, dating back to the crystalline arrays conjectured by Kepler and the random geometries explored by Bernal in the 1960s. This problem finds applications spanning from the mathematician's pencil, the processing of granular materials, the jamming and glass transitions, all the way to fruit packing in every grocery. There are presently numerous experiments showing that the loosest way to pack spheres gives a density of ∼55% (named random loose packing, RLP) while filling all the loose voids results in a maximum density of ∼63%64% (named random close packing, RCP). While those values seem robustly true, to this date there is no well-accepted physical explanation or theoretical prediction for them. Here we develop a common framework for understanding the random packings of monodisperse hard spheres whose limits can be interpreted as the experimentally observed RLP and RCP. The reason for these limits arises from a statistical picture of jammed states in which the RCP can be interpreted as the ground state of the ensemble of jammed matter with zero compactivity, while the RLP arises in the infinite compactivity limit. We combine an extended statistical mechanics approach 'a la Edwards' (where the role traditionally played by the energy and temperature in thermal systems is substituted by the volume and compactivity) with a constraint on mechanical stability imposed by the isostatic condition. We show how such approaches can bring results that can be compared to experiments and allow for an exploitation of the statistical mechanics framework. The key result is the use of a relation between the local Voronoi volumes of the constituent grains (denoted the volume function) and the number of neighbors in contact that permits us to simply combine the two approaches to develop a theory of volume fluctuations in jammed matter. Ultimately, our results lead to a phase diagram that provides a unifying view of the disordered hard sphere packing problem and further sheds light on a diverse spectrum of data, including the RLP state. Theoretical results are well reproduced by numerical simulations that confirm the essential role played by friction in determining both the RLP and RCP limits. The RLP values depend on friction, explaining why varied experimental results can be obtained.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-455
Number of pages29
JournalPhysica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Jammed matter
  • Phase diagram
  • Voronoi volumes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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