Seminar "Collective phenomena in granular and atmospheric electrification" by Prof. Daniel Lathrop


Friday, June 23, 2017 - 11:00 to 12:00


C016, Lab1


Title: "Collective phenomena in granular and atmospheric electrification "

Speaker: Prof. Daniel Lathrop, Professor of Physics and Professor of Geology

Affiliation: University of Maryland


In clouds of suspended particles (grains, droplets, spheres, crystals, etc.), collisions electrify the
particles and the clouds, producing large electric potential differences over large scales. This is seen
most spectacularly in the atmosphere as lighting in thunderstorms, thundersnow, dust storms, and
volcanic ash plumes where multi-million-volt potential differences over scales of kilometers can be
produced, but it is a general phenomenon in granular systems as a whole. The electrification process
is not well understood, especially for electrification of insulating particles of the same material.
To investigate the relative importances of particle properties (material, size, etc.) and collective
phenomena (behaviors of systems at large scales not easily predicted from local dynamics) in granular and atmospheric electrification, we used a table-top experiment that mechanically shakes particles inside a cell where we measure the macroscopic electric field between the electrically conducting end plates. The measured electric fields are a result of capacitive coupling and direct charge transfer between the particles and the plates. Using a diverse range of mono-material particle sets (plastics, ceramic, glass, and metals), we found that all our particle materials electrify and show similar dynamics with long time-scale temporal variation and an electric field amplitude that depends on the particle quantity in a complex way. These results suggest that while particle properties do matter like previous investigations have shown, macroscopic electrification of solids is relatively material agnostic and large scale collective phenomena play a major role.

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