Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Civil Engineering

Major Professor

Alaa Ashmawy, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Manjriker Gunaratne. Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sunil Saigal, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ashraf Ayoub, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Carlos Santamarina, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Autar Kaw, Ph.D.


numerical modeling, discrete element method, granular soils, dilation, angularity


The Discrete Element Method was first introduced by Cundall and Strack (1979) to model granular soils within the context of geotechnical engineering. The material is modeled as a random assembly of discrete elements. Each particle interacts with neighboring particles through contact forces that can be built up and broken at any time. The particles were modeled as discs in 2-D or as spheres in 3-D. Research studies have been conducted to improve the simulation of actual grain shapes. Ashmawy et al. (2003) developed the overlapping rigid clusters (ORC) method to accurately model irregular particle shapes. The idea relies on clumping a number of overlapping discs such that their coincides with that of the actual particle.

In this dissertation, experimental verification program is presented. An experimental setup was built and model-grains were manufactured in the laboratory. A numerical simulation for the experimental test was carried out. The numerical and experimental results were compared qualitatively and quantitatively. A good agreement was observed within small displacements ranges. However, results were considerably different at large displacements. Numerical results utilizing the ORC method were closer to the experimental results than those of discs. A sequential and operator-independent procedure, which relies on the ORC concept, was developed. Identical inertial properties between the actual particle and the model were ensured. The new procedure was implemented for rounded and angular particles.

The effect of particle shape and angularity on the strength and dilatancy characteristics of granular soils was investigated. A modified shape factor, which relies on the work introduced by Sukumaran and Ashmawy (2001), was developed. A series of pure shear testing simulations was performed on different shape and angularity particle groups. Angularity had a remarkable effect on strength and dilatancy properties compared to shape. The effect of interparticle friction on dilatancy was studied. An attempt was made to use an equivalent interparticle friction to model different particle shapes. It was concluded that there is no one-to-one equivalency between interparticle friction and shape or angularity. Instead, the interparticle friction must be continuously altered as a function of confining pressure and void ratio to achieve the required effect.