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I'd like to simulate how several particles mix together. For example, how do they settle when you throw them in a bucket? How do they assemble in zero-gravity? I might also want that they are "sticky" or that they can crack. I might also want to add some not-so-rigid things like drops of glue or snippets of strings.

The goal is not to have 100% accuracy in the physics, but more to end up with particle clusters that look similiar and have similiar geometric properties as their real-world counterparts.

I assume that this is a task which can get arbitrary difficult. Currently, I'm just looking for a good starting point:

  • Terms and words to do a good internet research
  • A good paper that can serve as a starting point
  • A real good book, probably from game physics
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    $\begingroup$ Have you checked available game engines? For instance, Blender: blender.org/features $\endgroup$ – nicoguaro May 31 '16 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ The CUDA toolkit includes some examples of simulating particles. The code is pretty straight forward to understand and includes an openGL display for visualization. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 1 '16 at 2:01
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My experience has been in visual effects where simulation time is not as important as in games, but is still more important than in engineering. The methods I'm familiar with are:

For details on the Material Point Method in a visual effects context, see Jiang's 2015 UCLA dissertation titled "The Material Point Method for the Physics-Based Simulation of Solids and Fluids." The references cited in that work will give you an idea of what the method has been used for.

For the Discrete Element Method, a good book is "Understanding the Discrete Element Method" (2014) by Matuttis and Chen (ISBN: 978-1-118-56720-3).

For Peridynamics there are two quite different approaches - bond-based and state-based. You can read Gerstle's "Introduction to Practical Peridynamics" to get a feel for the method. A test implementation of the bond-based method can be found on my github.

All these methods can be expensive but remove the need for extensive user input to get the physics to work correctly.

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Sounds like a challenging endeavor.

For deformable object, check out level set methods, e.g. this (old fashioned by still informative) website by Sethian.

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Check this out:

http://www.fluidix.ca/

You'll find references for almost every example + some nice CUDA implementations.

I can't help with CFD, but for solids there's Discrete Element Method and Peridynamics. The key idea behind them is essentially the same.

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