Clogging transition of many-particle systems flowing through bottlenecks

When a large set of discrete bodies passes through a bottleneck, the flow may become intermittent due to the development of clogs that obstruct the constriction. Clogging is observed, for instance, in colloidal suspensions, granular materials and crowd swarming, where consequences may be dramatic. Despite its ubiquity, a general framework embracing research in such a wide variety of scenarios is still lacking. We show that in systems of very different nature and scale -including sheep herds, pedestrian crowds, assemblies of grains, and colloids- the probability distribution of time lapses between the passages of consecutive bodies exhibits a power-law tail with an exponent that depends on the system condition. Consequently, we identify the transition to clogging in terms of the divergence of the average time lapse. Such a unified description allows us to put forward a qualitative clogging state diagram whose most conspicuous feature is the presence of a length scale qualitatively related to the presence of a finite size orifice. This approach helps to understand paradoxical phenomena, such as the faster-is-slower effect predicted for pedestrians evacuating a room and might become a starting point for researchers working in a wide variety of situations where clogging represents a hindrance.