Research Background

The physics of porous media is, when taking a broad view, the physics of multinary mixtures of immiscible solid and fluid constituents. Its relevance to society echoes in numerous engineering disciplines such as chemical engineering, soil mechanics, petroleum engineering, groundwater engineering, geothermics, fuel cell technology… It is also at the core of many scientific disciplines ranging from hydrogeology to pulmonology.

The situation today in porous media research is a patchwork of domains, some of which are advancing at high speed, whereas other domains remain where they have been for decades. For example, pore scale visualization techniques together with advances in numerical techniques and hardware have today reached a level of refinement that makes it possible numerically to reproduce the motion of immiscible fluids and their interfaces in complete detail at the pore level. On the other hand, to derive effective equations at the large-scale continuum level based on what happens at the pore scale – the upscaling problem – remains a rather stagnant endeavor as proven by the popularity of the eighty-year old relative permeability theory of Wyckoff and Botset.

Viscous fingering: Glycerol is displaced by air in a model of a porous medium. The gray tones in glycerol indicates the pressure. Models of porous media represent sandstone filled with oil that are being displaced by sea water during oil extraction under the sea bed. Picture courtesy: Department of Physics, UiO.
Computer simulated segregation process in a pack of particles with two different sizes. Air is blown through the pack from the bottom. This sorts the particles in areas where one finds almost exclusively one of the particle sizes. Picture courtesy: Department of Physics, UiO.

It is the aim of any physical theory to join experimental observations into a common framework reducing the field to solving mathematical problems. Here is an example. The flow of Newtonian fluids remained a catalogue over experimental observations until the advent of the Navier-Stokes equations. Afterwards, the problem became solving these equations with the proper boundary conditions. (That it is extremely difficult to solve these equations in the majority of instances is a different story.) The science of porous media is still at the catalogue stage with no general theory of porous media flow in existence nor in sight.

This Research Topic aims to present a snapshot of the state of the art in some of the domains that constitute the physics of porous media. The physics of porous media is of course far too wide to make it possible to give a comprehensive picture of the field. However, we will present the use of porous media in a number of contexts such as fuel cells, frost heave, etc. besides presenting fundamental theories and experimental results. Interdisciplinarity is a key word. (Frontiers in Physics, Physics of Porous Media, Available from: