Flow-induced phase separation of active particles is controlled by boundary conditions

Shashi Thutupalli, Delphine Geyer, Rajesh Singh, Ronojoy Adhikari, Howard A. Stone

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73 Scopus citations


Active particles, including swimming microorganisms, autophoretic colloids, and droplets, are known to self-organize into ordered structures at fluid–solid boundaries. The entrainment of particles in the attractive parts of their spontaneous flows has been postulated as a possible mechanism underlying this phenomenon. Here, combining experiments, theory, and numerical simulations, we demonstrate the validity of this flow-induced ordering mechanism in a suspension of active emulsion droplets. We show that the mechanism can be controlled, with a variety of resultant ordered structures, by simply altering hydrodynamic boundary conditions. Thus, for flow in Hele–Shaw cells, metastable lines or stable traveling bands can be obtained by varying the cell height. Similarly, for flow bounded by a plane, dynamic crystallites are formed. At a no-slip wall, the crystallites are characterized by a continuous out-of-plane flux of particles that circulate and re-enter at the crystallite edges, thereby stabilizing them. At an interface where the tangential stress vanishes, the crystallites are strictly 2D, with no out-of-plane flux. We rationalize these experimental results by calculating, in each case, the slow viscous flow produced by the droplets and the long-ranged, many-body active forces and torques between them. The results of numerical simulations of motion under the action of the active forces and torques are in excellent agreement with experiments. Our work elucidates the mechanism of flow-induced phase separation in active fluids, particularly active colloidal suspensions, and demonstrates its control by boundaries, suggesting routes to geometric and topological phenomena in an active matter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5403-5408
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 22 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Active matter
  • Boundary effects
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Phase separation


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