I made this Manipulate code which shows a pack of particles randomly moving inside a box. It has a huge performance issue. What should be the best way in doing "hard" bounces on the walls ? I used an oscillator trick to do the bounces (there's surely a better way). The code below is working but is way too slow for just a few particles, and yet the particles don't even interact ! So I need advices/suggestions to do a better "gaz of particles in a box".

L1 = 20; (* Box size along X *)
L2 = 10; (* Box size along Y *)
L3 = 5;  (* Box size along Z *)

r = 1; (* randomizer parameter *)

box = Graphics3D[{Opacity[0.1], Cuboid[{-L1/2, -L2/2, -L3/2}, {L1/2, L2/2, L3/2}]}];

(* Random initial conditions : *)
X0[n_, r_] := X0[n, r] = {RandomReal[{-1, 1}] L1/2, RandomReal[{-1, 1}] L2/2, RandomReal[{-1, 1}] L3/2}
V0[n_, r_] := V0[n, r] = RandomReal[{-1, 1}, 3]

(* Solving the equations of motion.  Surely a better way of doing this :  *)
motion[n_, r_] := NDSolve[{
    x''[t] == If[-L1/2 < x[t] < L1/2, 0, -10 x[t]],
    y''[t] == If[-L2/2 < y[t] < L2/2, 0, -10 y[t]],
    z''[t] == If[-L3/2 < z[t] < L3/2, 0, -10 z[t]],

    x[0] == {1, 0, 0}.X0[n, r],
    y[0] == {0, 1, 0}.X0[n, r],
    z[0] == {0, 0, 1}.X0[n, r],
    x'[0] == {1, 0, 0}.V0[n, r],
    y'[0] == {0, 1, 0}.V0[n, r],
    z'[0] == {0, 0, 1}.V0[n, r]

    }, {x, y, z}, {t, 0, 50},
    Method -> Automatic, MaxSteps -> Automatic

color[n_] := color[n] = RGBColor[RandomReal[{0, 1}, 3]]

particles[t_, Np_, r_] := Graphics3D[Table[{color[n], PointSize -> 0.01,
    Point[Evaluate[{x[t], y[t], z[t]}/.motion[n, r]]]
    }, {n, 1, Np}]]

trajectory[t_, n_, r_] := ParametricPlot3D[
    Evaluate[{x[s], y[s], z[s]}/.motion[n, r]], {s, 0.001, t}, 
    PlotStyle -> color[n]]

    Show[{box, particles[t, Np, r], 
        Table[trajectory[t, n, r], {n, 1, Np}]},
        PlotRange -> {{-1, 1} L1/2, {-1, 1} L2/2, {-1, 1} L3/2},
        Boxed -> False, Axes -> False,
        ImageSize -> {600, 600},
        SphericalRegion -> True,
        Method -> {"RotationControl" -> "Globe"}],
    {{t, 0, Style["Time", 10]}, 0, 50, 0.01, ImageSize -> Large},
    {{Np, 1, Style["Number or particles", 10]}, 1, 100, 1, ImageSize -> Large},
    Button[Style["Randomize", Bold, Red, 12], {r = RandomReal[]},
        Appearance -> "Palette", ImageSize -> {100, 24}],
    ControlPlacement -> Bottom

Preview : box of particles

EDIT : I know that the analytical solution to the equations of motion is simply a straight line (with the random initial conditions defined above) :

X[t_, n_, r_] := X0[n, r] + V0[n, r] t

which describes the motion between the start (at t = 0) and the first collision through a wall. It's certainly preferable to use this function instead of solving the differential equations. But I'm still struggling with the collisions. How to reverse the velocity at each collision, without solving the diff equations ?

EDIT 2 :

I've adapted the code from tsuresuregusa, and here's a preview of the sweet results :

a sweet box of candies

I've added a fade effect on the trails. It's really fun to see the animation.

Here's an animation of 6 particles :

6 particles

I used ViewPoint -> {Sin[0.05t], Cos[0.05t], 1} for the revolution around the box. What would you suggest for a better effect ?

  • $\begingroup$ the best way to solve this is with an event-driven simulation code. Since the particles move in straight lines between collisions you can write an analytical function for them, piecewise between collisions. Check here artemis.wszib.edu.pl/~sloot/1_4.html or here www2.msm.ctw.utwente.nl/sluding/PAPERS/luding_md1.pdf my ex-boss. Let me see if I have time to code a minimal example in the next few days, should be fun. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2016 at 4:35
  • $\begingroup$ related: How to simulate the true reflective movement of a particle bouncing around in an ellipse? $\endgroup$
    – Kuba
    Apr 5, 2016 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ Do you need to visualize just particles or trajectories as well? $\endgroup$
    – BlacKow
    Apr 5, 2016 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ @BlacKow, both. The trajectories would be turned on/off using a switch in the Manipulate code. $\endgroup$
    – Cham
    Apr 5, 2016 at 18:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You should use Imgur and not Postimage if you want the animation to work. Postimage serves your animation as HTML (containing a number of "adult themed" adverts) rather than GIF. StackExchange has a contract with Imgur to host all the images on the site and there is a better chance that the posts won't be rendered useless by the images disappearing (or being supplanted by porn ads) if you use them. The image upload thing does suck, but that's life I'm afraid. By the way, thanks for supplying the alt text. So few people bother with it. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2016 at 2:06

3 Answers 3


ok, this is cheating but since your gas is non-interacting it works.

3 dimensions or 1 dimensions is the same since the collisions only change momentum in the normal direction, ie we assume point particles and no friction.

A collision with a wall the only thing it does is to invert the velocity. So you can think of the particle moving at a constant speed from its starting position to infinity. The only thing you need to do is to map it onto the box in the correct way.

L = 1
a[x_] := -1 + 2 Boole@OddQ@Quotient[x, L];
Plot[Mod[a[x] x , L], {x, 0, 10}]

enter image description here


Maybe there is a nicer way of doing it, but what the quotient does is to "count" how many times the particle has crossed the boundary. Remember the whole idea is based on that the particle moves from its initial position to infinity. When you know how many times had "crossed" a boundary you know when to change the velocity. That's what the Bole@OddQ does, which gives you 0 or 1, but you want -1 and 1 (the velocity is reflected completely with each collision) so in fact a is the sign of the velocity as a function of time.

Btw, this is a trick used in real world simulations.


Clear[a, x]
L = 1
a[x_] := -1 + 2 Boole@OddQ@Quotient[x, L];
x[t_] := t + .3;
x2[t_] := 2.43 t;
x3[t_] := \[Pi] t;
ParametricPlot3D[{Mod[a[ x3[t]]  x3[t], L], Mod[a[ x2[t]]  x2[t], L], 
  Mod[a[x[t]]   x[t], L]}, {t, 0, 3}]

enter image description here

Update 2:

It may be that the notation is not too clear, but seemed to me that adding .3 as an example of x0 was enough. The same with pi for the velocity of the particles... simple dimensional analysis tells you to what they correspond. I think your problem is that you still don't get what the function a[x] does, which is to map back into the box the particles as I explained at the beginning of my answer.

This one has colours and manipulate:

Clear[a, x, x0]
L = 1
a[x_] := -1 + 2 Boole@OddQ@Quotient[x, L];
x[t_, v_, x0_] := v t + x0;
xBox [t_, v_, x0_] := Mod[a[ x[t, v, x0]]  x[t, v, x0], L];

vel = RandomReal[{-1, 1}, {10, 3}];
pos =  RandomReal[{0, L}, {10, 3}];

    Table[xBox[t, vel[[i, j]], pos[[i, j]]], {j, 3}], {t, 0, tf}, 
    PlotStyle -> Hue[i/10], PlotRange -> {0, L}], {i, 3}]], {tf, 1, 

last addendum:

enter image description here

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ MMA has TriangleWave... $\endgroup$
    – LLlAMnYP
    Apr 5, 2016 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ What is the logic of the a[x] function ? I don't understand that code. How do you add the random position and velocity ? And is x the time t ? $\endgroup$
    – Cham
    Apr 5, 2016 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ a[x] is the "velocity" of the particle, the slope of the straight line. The velocity changes direction each time it collides (or passes) through a boundary. The velocity is either positive or negative depending on how many times it "collides". x is time, to start in another position just start from another random time. The random velocity you can get it by multiplying x by some constant. For one particle you can always adimensionalise such that v = 1 as my case. The logic of the code is that a gas of non-interacting particles is boring since they actually move in straight lines. Somehow. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2016 at 13:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ there is maybe a nicer way of doing it, but what the quotient does is to "count" how many times the particle has crossed the boundary. Remember the whole idea is based the particle moves from its initial position to infinity. When you know how many times had "crossed" a boundary you know when to change the velocity. That's what the Bole@OddQ does, whit gives you 0 or 1, but you want -1 and 1 (the velocity is reflected completely with each collision) so in fact a is the sign of the velocity as a function of time. Maybe plot a[t] as a function of t so you get the idea. $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2016 at 13:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ skip a[x] in that dimension and add a Mod to the coordinate. With PBC the velocity doesn't change sign so only the position changes when crossing borders $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2016 at 21:05

You can use FoldList to generate evolution of your system. You need a function that propagates your particles in time. Every time you apply your function to state at time $t$ you obtain your state at time $t+dt$. Let's make such function for one particle in 1D.

Tr1D[{x_, v_}, dt_, L_] := Module[{u, w},
   u = x + v dt;
   {u, w} = If[u < L, {u, v}, {L - (u - L), -v}];
   {u, w} = If[u > -L, {u, w}, {(u - L) - u, -w}]

L is your 1D box.

Now let's make such function for one particle in 3D

Tr3D[p_, dt_, L_] := 
  Flatten@{Tr1D[p[[#]], dt, L[[#]]]} & /@ {1, 2, 3};

and then we can generalize it to $N$ particles in 3D.

box = {1, 1, 1};
numOfPart = 50;
Tr3ND[p_, dt_, L_] := Tr3D[#, dt, L] & /@ p;
g[p_, dt_] := Tr3ND[p, dt, box];

g translates your system in time.

ipos = Transpose@(RandomReal[#, numOfPart] & /@ Transpose@{-box, box});
ivel = Transpose@(RandomReal[#, numOfPart] & /@ 
     Transpose@{-2 box, 2 box});
init = (Transpose@{#[[1]], #[[2]]}) & /@ Transpose@{ipos, ivel};

You initial condition for every particle is its position and velocity at $t=0$. So your system at any moment is fully described by $6N$ values. We apply FoldList to run our propagation function recursively:

traj = FoldList[g, init, ConstantArray[0.1, 300]];

And we obtain the trajectories of all particles (with 300 steps). Now we can draw them

Animate[Graphics3D[#, PlotRange -> Transpose@{-box, box}, 
    Axes -> True] &@
  Riffle[Point /@ traj[[t, All, All, 1]], {Red, Blue, Green, 
    Orange}], {t, 1, Length@traj, 1}]

enter image description here

This approach is quite general, because now you can modify your g function to add external field or interaction between particles.

Update: Adding fading trajectories

colors = Table[#[[Mod[i, Length@#] + 1]] &@ #, {i, 1, 
      numOfPart}] &@{Red, Blue, Green, Orange};
distColor[col_, fade_, lines_] := 
  Reverse@FoldList[{Lighter[#1[[1]], fade], #2} &,  {col, 0}, 
     Reverse@lines][[2 ;; -1]];
Animate[Graphics3D[{PointSize[0.01], Thick,  #}, 
    PlotRange -> Transpose@{-box, box}, 
    Axes -> True] &@(distColor[#1, 0.2, #2] & @@@ 
    Transpose@{colors, (Line /@ Partition[#, 2, 1] & /@ 
         traj[[Max[1, t - 20] ;; t, All, All, 1]], {2, 1}])}), {t, 1, 
  Length@traj, 1}]

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ It's working, but it is very elaborate, and I don't understand much of the code. Maybe too general for what I want to do ? I was thinking of using the analytical solution, for all time $t$, which is $x_{k+1}(t) = (-1)^k \, \big(x_0 + v_{0 x}(\, t - k L_1/v_0) \big)$ (similar expressions for axes $y$ and $z$), for time in the intervall $t_k < t < t_{k + 1}$, where $k$ is the collision time : $t_{k + 1} = t_1 + k L_1/v_0$ ($t_1$ is the time of the first collision on the $x$ axis). $\endgroup$
    – Cham
    Apr 5, 2016 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and how can you trace the trajetories with your method ? And I don't see any Random initial conditions in the code. $\endgroup$
    – Cham
    Apr 5, 2016 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Cham If you final goal is non-interacting particles, then you should stick to @tsuresuregusa's solution. I'm pretty sure that you will want some interaction later. Also keep in mind that to you need to evaluate your positions at $t_i$ to make animation. So even if you have analytical solution you will still need to calculate the points. My method already gives the positions to you. Not sure how elaborate it is. A lot of it is just problem setup, the g function is pretty straightforward. $\endgroup$
    – BlacKow
    Apr 5, 2016 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Cham Instead of plotting Points you will need to plot Lines between them. My initial conditions init are generated with RandomReal $\endgroup$
    – BlacKow
    Apr 5, 2016 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, you're right : at first, I was interested in interacting (colliding) hard balls. But I guessed that it would be too slow for a `Manipulate', and thus reduced my original problem to a much simpler gas of non-interacting bouncing particles. $\endgroup$
    – Cham
    Apr 5, 2016 at 21:01

There's a very nice (and more complete) solution here :


However, I don't understand that code. Maybe someone could built another solution from it, to be exposed here ?


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