A geometric criterion for the optimal spreading of active polymers in porous media

Christina Kurzthaler, Suvendu Mandal, Tapomoy Bhattacharjee, Hartmut Löwen, Sujit S. Datta, Howard A. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Efficient navigation through disordered, porous environments poses a major challenge for swimming microorganisms and future synthetic cargo-carriers. We perform Brownian dynamics simulations of active stiff polymers undergoing run-reverse dynamics, and so mimic bacterial swimming, in porous media. In accord with experiments of Escherichia coli, the polymer dynamics are characterized by trapping phases interrupted by directed hopping motion through the pores. Our findings show that the spreading of active agents in porous media can be optimized by tuning their run lengths, which we rationalize using a coarse-grained model. More significantly, we discover a geometric criterion for the optimal spreading, which emerges when their run lengths are comparable to the longest straight path available in the porous medium. Our criterion unifies results for porous media with disparate pore sizes and shapes and for run-and-tumble polymers. It thus provides a fundamental principle for optimal transport of active agents in densely-packed biological and environmental settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7088
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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