Better discrete-element simulations through detailed finite-element contact modelling

The Discrete Element Method (DEM) is increasingly used in industry and academia, to simulate particulate materials. DEM models individual particles, and thus requires efficient yet realistic calculation of inter-particle forces through an appropriate contact law. Simple contact laws are available for the contact between spherical particles, with more complex laws being extending them to account for phenomena such as cohesion or liquid bridging. In most cases, however, only the contact between two spherical particles is considered.

Recent research has started addressing the challenges related to modelling particles with multiple contacts, which represent practically all practical cases modelled using DEM. This project will employ detailed finite-element simulations of individual particles in contact with each other, to determine the applicability of current approaches for multi-particle contacts and determine new specific multi-particle contact behaviour descriptions for DEM. Moreover, the project will consider the case of single and multiple contacts between non-sperical particles, which is of great practical importance. Of particular interest is the modelling of specific particle geometries, such as cylindrical or superquadric particles, which often represent a good compromise between spheres and particles descriptions for arbitrarily shaped particles (e.g. using polyhedrals).

While techniques already exist to implement DEM simulations with FEM modelling at the particle level, these are extremely inefficient. A major goal of the project is to extract the main properties of the complex multiple-contact and non-sperical-contact behaviours obtained through FEM analyses in the form of relatively simple DEM contact laws that can lead to realistic yet computationally feasible large-scale DEM simulations of industrial processes.

Closing Date: 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Principal Supervisor: 


Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.

Candidates must have a good background in computational mechanics, civil/mechanical/chemical engineering, soil mechanics, granular physics or particle technology.


Applications are welcomed from self-funded students, or students who are applying for scholarships from the University of Edinburgh or elsewhere

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: