UCL News


UCL in the News: Undulating clay

18 July 2007

A UK computer simulation has revealed that, at a certain size, microscopic sheets of clay start to undulate, something that has never been observed in the material before.

Supercomputers on the UK National Grid Service, the US TeraGrid and DEISA (EU Distributed European Infrastructure for Supercomputing Applications), linked by dedicated high speed optical networks including UKLight, were pressed into service.

Prof Peter Coveney [UCL Chemistry] and colleagues used these resources to produce simulations of five computer models of the platelets that lock together to form clay sheets, the difference between each model being its size and complexity. …

Data from the simulations were returned to computers back at UCL for visualisation which revealed the undulations. 'As we moved from smaller to larger models we began to see collective undulations - the clay platelet sheets fluctuate up and down,' said Prof Coveney. …

As a next step, the group plans to simulate clay platelets embedded in a polymer matrix. Such clay-polymer nanocomposites are under investigation for a number of applications ranging from car bodies and other automotive uses, through oilfield technology to drinks packaging.

Compared with polymers alone, they have far greater mechanical strength, improved fire retardant properties and they make better barriers to the diffusion of gas. 'These simulations will give us a better understanding of the properties of these new and important materials,' said Prof Coveney.

The Engineer Online