The number of ways to arrange 128 tennis balls in a box exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.
That’s the finding of a seemingly bizarre study by University of Cambridge scientists, who are hoping to one day predict when avalanches will happen.
They have managed to solve a long-standing physics problem – calculating how many arrangements are possible with a box of 128 tennis balls.
The answer is huge – 10 unquadragintilliard, or 1 followed by 250 zeros.
It is a number that exceeds the number of particles in the universe, yet it is the method they used to find the figure that is most important.
They used a computer model to simulate a jammed packing of balls at random and then giving it nudges to bump the balls into a higher energy state.
Hundreds of hours of computer time were needed to carry out the calculations.
The system could make it possible for scientists to calculate “configurational entropy”, which describes how structurally disordered particles in a system are.
By being able to do this, it could unlock the possibility of predicting the movement of avalanches, and how shifting sand dunes will look over time.
Stefano Martiniani, who carried out the study with colleagues in the Department of Chemistry, said: “Granular materials themselves are the second most processed kind of material in the world after water and even the shape of the surface of the Earth is defined by how they behave.
“Obviously being able to predict how avalanches move or deserts may change is a long, long way off, but one day we would like to be able to solve such problems.
“This idea was abandoned because it was thought to be numerically intractable, but we’ve shown it can be done.” Man this hard to believe that they would stop this because they only tried with 128 BALLS . Hundreds of hours of computer time were needed to carry out the calculations. MY PROBLEM IS unquadragintilliard, or 1 followed by 250 zeros, MEANS WHAT? It was a boring months watching all 128 BALLS just sit there at the University of Cambridge and not have an