If you take more than 10 percent of the fruit in a stacked produce display — watch out.
The iconic sloped produce displays in grocery stores can cause chaos when they collapse. But the question of how much fruit can be removed before the structure comes tumbling down is surprisingly complicated. A new study, published in the December Physical Review E, finally provides an answer.
Fruit display collapses are a good system for studying the dynamics that produce avalanches and landslides because they’re relatively simple, says physicist Eduardo Rojas of the University of Antofagasta in Chile (SN: 1/4/16). All the objects are arranged in a nonrandom, crystallike form and are roughly the same size and shape — unlike the earth of a mountainside, for instance. This makes it easier to examine the impact of removing one object on the overall structure.
Using computer simulations, Rojas and colleagues modeled fruit stacked at many different angles to identify when a collapse would never happen and when one would happen instantly. In between those extremes, the team simulated what would happen to the integrity of the display when more and more fruit was removed.
About 10 percent of the fruit in a given display can be removed before triggering an avalanche, the simulations suggest. If 29 shoppers grabbed an apple from a stack of 300, the next shopper might want to put on a hard hat before plucking one for themselves.
“Their simulations certainly seem to have some of the hallmarks of our everyday experience,” says Arshad Kudrolli, a physicist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “It is a nice approach and can be generalized easily.”
Rojas and colleagues next hope to simulate angled stacks of objects of different sizes that are randomly arranged, like piles of rocks that could lead to dangerous rockslides.