These nails start out perfectly arranged, the hardware store equivalent of a perfect crystalline structure. But as their bed begins to vibrate and they start moving around, they become increasingly disordered, actually imitating all the stages of a melting crystal.
Basically, this is a great representation of the thermodynamic processes that a crystal experiences as temperatures increase and it begins to melt. Created by University of Toronto physicists Stephen Morris and T. Lynn MacDonald, the states that the shaking nails form are a very close match to the different patterns created by a melting crystal.
That's a surprising result, considering this shouldn't be even remotely analogous. After all, shaking a bed of nails isn't really anything like heating up a crystal. Morris explains:
"Since the nails lose energy on collisions, we must continuously feed energy in via the shaking. So this is a very non-thermodynamic situation, yet we observe more or less the same phases as in liquid crystals."
Just why the vibrating nails lose order in such essentially thermodynamic patterns is something Morris and MacDonald hope to explore further. Until then, shaking nails never looked so good.
Via New Scientist.