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State of Pennsylvania,




Mechanical and Physical Science,



JULY, 1836.

Practical and Theoretical Mechanics.

Experiments on the resistance of sand to motion through tubes, with especial reference to its use in the blasting of rocks, made at Fort Adams, Newport harbour, under the direction of Col. Totten. By Lieut. T. S. BROWN, of the Corps of Engineers.*


GENTLEMEN: The great quantity of rock excavation required at Fort Adams, Newport, R. I. created, at an early period of the operations, an earnest desire, on the part of the officers of engineers charged with the construction of that work, to devise some method of loading and securing the drill holes which would be less dangerous to the workmen than the one which had been usually employed. For this purpose resort was had to the use of clean dry sand in the manner which will be hereafter described, it being understood that that expedient had been successfully tried at other places. It was found, however, that great prejudices existed among the workmen on this subject, and that from their belief of the inefficiency of the new method, they required to be constantly watched, to prevent them

* We are compelled to divide this interesting paper. The first part, consisting mainly of a translation of the essay of M. H. Burnand, is now given, and the experiments which form the more important part of the paper, will follow in the next number. COM. PUR.

VOL. XVIII, No. 1.-JULY, 1836.


from jeoparding their own safety, by returning to the old practice of filling the holes with fragments of stones and bricks, driven in with violence above the powder. It appeared to be important that the doubts of the workmen should be put at rest, and that several practical questions connected with the use of sand, in blasting, should be solved, and it was the intention of Colonel Totten, the superintending engineer, that experiments should be made for these purposes. This intention was confirmed by the appearance, in the "Journal of the Royal Institution," and in the "American Journal of Science," of brief notices, of a paper describing some interesting experiments on the flow and pressure of sand, which had been made in Europe. I was accordingly directed to institute a series of trials, having for their object, to determine the degree and nature of the resistance offered by sand when it is attempted to force it through a tube by direct pressure, and it was intended, at the same time, to investigate, more thoroughly, some of the properties of this substance which were developed in the European experiments just mentioned.

The experiments made in consequence of these instructions were prosecuted at distant intervals of leisure during the years 1829 and 1830, but they were interrupted before all had been accomplished, which had been originally designed; nevertheless, the results obtained were interesting, and it is thought that a brief account of them may be acceptable to the readers of your Journal.

Having, subsequently to making the experiments, procured, through the kindness of my friend, Professor A. D. Bache, a copy, in French, of the original paper above referred to, which has been several times re-published in Europe, I have translated it at length, from the "Annales de Chimie et de Physique," vol. XL, page 159, and prefix the translation to the summary of my own investigations.


Letter of M. Huber Burnand, to Professor Prevost, on the flow and pressure of sand.

[M. Huber Burnand, two years since, presented to the Society of Physics and Natural History of Geneva, an anemometer, in which the force and duration of the wind, were measured by the quantity of sand which escaped from a variable opening, proportioned in size to the force which it was proposed to measure. On this subject, M. Prevost proposed the following question. Does not the sand in its flow, correspond in a certain degree with a liquid, and is not its discharge in consequence, more rapid, as the head in the vessel which contains it is greater? He indicated at the same time, the further researches which might be made as to the mode of action of the sand, in regard to the pressure which it exerts. Such is the origin and motive of the experiments submitted by M. Burnand to M. Prevost in this letter, which has been kindly communicated to us for publication.]

By preliminary trials, I ascertained that the two following precautions are necessary to obtain a tolerably regular flow of sand. First, it is indispensable that the sand should be sifted with the greatest care, but that it should not be as fine as flour. The sand used by founders would be too fine for this purpose; its fall would be irregular and would be frequently interrupted without any assignable cause. If, instead of this, we take the sand used in making tiles, and carefully sift it through a cotton gauze, the holes of which are produced by a web, which presents thirty-eight threads

by forty-five in the space of one square inch, we shall find it to flow with the greatest facility. The second condition necessary to the uninterrupted flow of the sand, is that the opening should have a diameter of at least of an inch.

These first questions settled, I could proceed to the researches which I had in view. For this purpose, I had made two wooden boxes, one thirty-one inches high, with a bottom twelve inches square, and another forty-seven inches high, with a bottom only four inches square. They were open at the top, and provided at the bottom with four small boards, sliding in grooves disposed in the form of a cross, so as to permit the aperture to be widened or lengthened at pleasure. The slides were made thin, so that the flow should not be affected by the thickness of the wood, a circumstance the inconveniences of which, I had already discovered. These two boxes were raised on four legs, for the convenience of experimenting, and I procured an excellent stop watch to ensure accuracy in the results. The volumes were measured in a graduated glass tube, and I had also obtained a very sensible balance, with very exact metrical decimal weights. I must add that all my trials were repeated several times, and that I had acquired by long practice, such skill in these experiments, that an error of a quarter of a second in time, would have been detected in the results.

In the most delicate experiments, I introduced metallic slides graduated to 18ths. of an inch, instead of the wooden ones: they were however, still by no means as exact as was desirable.

I shall divide my researches into two parts; those which have for their special object the flowing of sand, and those which refer more particularly to its pressure, as serving to explain the phenomena ascertained in relation to the first subject.

I. The flow of Sand.

1. The quantity of sand which flowed in a given time from a given opening, was absolutely the same, both by volume and weight, whatever the height of the sand in the box at the commencement of the experiment There were nevertheless, occasional variations, more or less, of two or three grammes. They were caused, most frequently, by the difficulty of introducing and withdrawing, at the proper moment, the vessel which was used to receive the sand. The errors compensated for each other, and disappeared when quantities as great as from four to five hundred grammes were employed. Three minutes were ordinarily employed in an experiThe quantities obtained during the consecutive ninety seconds, were weighed, and when the weights were equal we called them accurate.


The weights were placed together, and compared afterwards with others obtained in the same manner, with columns of sand of ten times the height. The results were always perfectly alike.

2. The quantity of sand flowing through a hole from th. to th. of an inch wide, was always in direct proportion to the length of the opening, a fact which is susceptible of very useful applications in several Philosophical instruments. But the least variation in the breadth of the opening, caused in the quantity of sand flowing out, an increase, which exceeded the simple ratio of the surfaces of the orifice, as far, at least, as I could judge with the imperfect means which were at my disposal.

3. The sand escaping through openings in the side of the box, flow

*A Gramme is about 15 grains. Tr.

ed with the same velocity whatever the height of the column was. But if the holes were placed horizontally, and had not a vertical dimension about equal to the thickness of the board, not a single grain of sand fell from them, whatever its height in the box.

4. Sand poured into one branch of a tube bent twice at right angles, does not rise in the opposite branch as a liquid does; it only extends a very small distance from the elbow into the horizontal part.

5. Whatever may be the pressure to which sand contained in a box is subjected, it does not influence in any manner, the quantity which flows out through a given opening situated at the bottom of the box or in the sides. The experiment was made successively with masses of iron weighing from twenty-six to fifty-five pounds.

6. A graduated rod inserted perpendicularly in the top of the column of sand, and precisely in the direction of an opening below, descends in and with the sand without inclining in any direction, and with a motion nearly as uniform as that of a clock. A rod fifteen inches long, was made at pleasure to descend 4ths, of an inch per minute or per second. An overshot wheel placed in the interior of the box, and provided with an index outside, also moved with astonishing regularity, but very slowly. If the rod, instead of being placed in the axis of motion, was placed nearer the sides of the box, it inclined with great uniformity, but at the same time descended and advanced towards the centre with a very slow motion. The velocity of this rod depends then, principally on its position in the sand, and next on the size of the orifice. The velocity is probably also proportional to the ratio which exists between the surface of the orifice and the horizontal section of the box, since it depends upon the quantity which flows out during each instant, compared with the whole quantity.

With more care and several modifications of the apparatus, it would probably be possible to produce more regularity than I have attained, in the progress of movable bodies, carried along by the friction of the sand.

I will remark in passing, that there probably does not exist any other natural force on the earth, which produces of itself a perfectly uniform movement, and which would not be altered by gravitation, by friction, or by the resistance of the air. We see that the height of the column has no influence on the velocity of motion of the sand, neither increasing nor diminishing it. As to friction, far from being an obstacle, it is itself the direct cause of the regularity and uniformity of the movement, as will be shown in the sequel of my experiments; and the resistance of the air in the interior of a column of sand in motion, must be very small indeed, since none of the grains fall freely. The hour glass, a time piece, which preceded all others, was thus founded on a much more philosophical basis than has been supposed, and I venture to flatter myself that my researches may be of some use to it, in its application to the arts and to science.

7. After having studied sand in motion, I examined its mode of action when distributed in heaps upon a plane.

For this purpose I began by placing isolated grains of sand on a movable plane, susceptible of being inclined at will; they hardly rolled until the plane was inclined at least, under an angle of thirty degrees, and some remained at an inclination of forty degrees, but beyond this none remained at rest. Sand never assumes a level of itself; the angle, or the angles under which it usually presents itself, after a part of its mass has crumbled, are

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