Force chains have been regarded as an important hallmark of granular materials. Numerous studies have examined their evolution, properties, and statistics in highly idealized, often circular-shaped, granular assemblies. However, particles found in nature and handled in industries come in a wide variety of shapes. In this paper, we experimentally investigate the robustness of force chains with respect to particle shape. We present a detailed analysis on the particle- to continuum-scale response of granular materials affected by particle shape, that includes the force transmission and mobilized shear strength. The effect of shape is studied by comparing experimental results collected from shear tests performed on 2D analogue circular- and arbitrarily-shaped granular assemblies. Particle shapes are directly discretized from X-Ray CT images of a real sand sample. By inferring individual contact forces using the Granular Element Method (GEM), we provide a direct visualization of the force network, a statistical characterization of the force transmission and a quantitative description of the shear strength in terms of rolling, sliding and interlocking contact mechanisms. We report that force chains are less prevalent in assemblies of arbitrarily-shaped particles than in circular-shaped samples. Furthermore, interlocking is identified as the essential contact mechanism that (1) furnishes a stable structure for force chains to emerge and (2) explains the enhanced shear strength observed in the arbitrarily-shaped samples. These findings highlight the importance of accounting for particle shape to capture and predict the complex mechanical behavior of granular materials across scales.

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