Tenuous Structures from Disorderly Growth Processes

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Science  27 Jun 1986:
Vol. 232, Issue 4758, pp. 1607-1612
DOI: 10.1126/science.232.4758.1607


Colloidal aggregation and other random growth processes produce structures that behave differently from ordinary bulk matter. Much of this behavior can be described in terms of the invariance of the aggregates under changes of spatial length scale: they appear to be fractals. There are two types of basic mechanisms for producing fractal aggregates. Those in which aggregation proceeds cluster by cluster can be understood qualitatively in terms of a solvable schematic model. The diffusion-limited aggregation or deposition of individual particles to make a large cluster is not as well understood. It is closely related to several irreversible processes in other areas of physics, such as two-fluid displacement in porous materials and the dielectric breakdown of insulators. More generally, disorderly growth mechanisms provide structures having unique properties, many of which can be understood by using simple statistical principles.