Packing in the Spheres

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Science  13 Feb 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5660, pp. 968-969
DOI: 10.1126/science.1094581

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To study how objects pack together, physicists have long assumed that the objects are spherical. But this simplifying approximation may be leading researchers astray. As Weitz discusses in his Perspective, the work reported by Donev et al. in the same issue shows that how spheres pack may be the exception rather than the rule. Through a combination of experiments with a large collection of ellipsoidal candies and computer simulations, the researchers discover that a much higher volume can be filled with the ellipsoids than with spheres. Not just a theoretical puzzle, the ways in which objects pack are of vital concern to the shipping and manufacturing industries.