To visualize the results of a simulation model of woodland trees within R, I needed an algorithm that could arrange a large number of circles within a rectangle such that no two circles overlapped by more than a specified amount. A colleague had approached this problem earlier by sorting the circles in order of descending size, then randomly dropping each one into the rectangle repeatedly until it landed in a position with acceptable overlap.

I suspected a faster and more robust algorithm could be constructed using some kind of "jiggling the circles" approach. Luckily for me, I discovered that Sean McCullough had written a really nice example of circles packing into a cluster using the Processing language. Sean's program is based on an iterative pair-repulsion algorithm in which overlapping circles move away from each other. Based on this, and modifying the algorithm a little, I came up with an R function to produce constrained random layouts of a given set of circles. He…

I suspected a faster and more robust algorithm could be constructed using some kind of "jiggling the circles" approach. Luckily for me, I discovered that Sean McCullough had written a really nice example of circles packing into a cluster using the Processing language. Sean's program is based on an iterative pair-repulsion algorithm in which overlapping circles move away from each other. Based on this, and modifying the algorithm a little, I came up with an R function to produce constrained random layouts of a given set of circles. He…