A spherical-harmonic-based approach to discrete element modeling of 3D irregular particles

Xiang Wang, Zhen Yu Yin, Hao Xiong, Dong Su, Yun Tian Feng

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Different from previous discrete element methods (DEM), where irregular 3D particle shapes are approximated by subspheres, vertices, or voxels, this study aims to develop an innovative and computationally effective DEM method directly employing spherical harmonic functions for simulations of 3D irregular-shaped particles. First, the discrete surface points of a 3D irregular-shaped particle are represented by spherical harmonic functions with only a limited number of harmonic coefficients to restore the particle morphology. Then, the intrinsic physical quantities are computed directly using spherical harmonic functions. Next, specific algorithms for interparticle overlapping detection and contact resolution involving the spherical harmonic functions are developed. Subsequently, the interparticle contact forces, moments, and particle movements are computed. The feasibility and capability of the proposed 3D method are verified by simulating random deposition of superellipsoids, repose angle tests, and triaxial tests on particles with various shapes. The proposed method could pave a viable pathway for realistic modeling of granular media pertaining to various engineering and industrial processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5626-5655
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2021


  • computational particle mechanics
  • contact detection and resolution
  • discrete element method
  • irregular-shaped particles
  • spherical harmonics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Numerical Analysis
  • Engineering(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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