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Collective motion in a suspension of micro-swimmers that run-and-tumble and rotary diffuse

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2015

Deepak Krishnamurthy
Engineering Mechanics Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Jakkur, Bangalore, Karnataka 560064, India
Ganesh Subramanian*
Engineering Mechanics Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Jakkur, Bangalore, Karnataka 560064, India
Email address for correspondence:


Recent experiments have shown that suspensions of swimming micro-organisms are characterized by complex dynamics involving enhanced swimming speeds, large-scale correlated motions and enhanced diffusivities of embedded tracer particles. Understanding this dynamics is of fundamental interest and also has relevance to biological systems. The observed collective dynamics has been interpreted as the onset of a hydrodynamic instability, of the quiescent isotropic state of pushers, swimmers with extensile force dipoles, above a critical threshold proportional to the swimmer concentration. In this work, we develop a particle-based model to simulate a suspension of hydrodynamically interacting rod-like swimmers to estimate this threshold. Unlike earlier simulations, the velocity disturbance field due to each swimmer is specified in terms of the intrinsic swimmer stress alone, as per viscous slender-body theory. This allows for a computationally efficient kinematic simulation where the interaction law between swimmers is known a priori. The neglect of induced stresses is of secondary importance since the aforementioned instability arises solely due to the intrinsic swimmer force dipoles.

Our kinematic simulations include, for the first time, intrinsic decorrelation mechanisms found in bacteria, such as tumbling and rotary diffusion. To begin with, we simulate so-called straight swimmers that lack intrinsic orientation decorrelation mechanisms, and a comparison with earlier results serves as a proof of principle. Next, we simulate suspensions of swimmers that tumble and undergo rotary diffusion, as a function of the swimmer number density $(n)$, and the intrinsic decorrelation time (the average duration between tumbles, ${\it\tau}$, for tumblers, and the inverse of the rotary diffusivity, $D_{r}^{-1}$, for rotary diffusers). The simulations, as a function of the decorrelation time, are carried out with hydrodynamic interactions (between swimmers) turned off and on, and for both pushers and pullers (swimmers with contractile force dipoles). The ‘interactions-off’ simulations allow for a validation based on analytical expressions for the tracer diffusivity in the stable regime, and reveal a non-trivial box size dependence that arises with varying strength of the hydrodynamic interactions. The ‘interactions-on’ simulations lead us to our main finding: the existence of a box-size-independent parameter that characterizes the onset of instability in a pusher suspension, and is given by $nUL^{2}{\it\tau}$ for tumblers and $nUL^{2}/D_{r}$ for rotary diffusers; here, $U$ and $L$ are the swimming speed and swimmer length, respectively. The instability manifests as a bifurcation of the tracer diffusivity curves, in pusher and puller suspensions, for values of the above dimensionless parameters exceeding a critical threshold.

© 2015 Cambridge University Press 

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Present address: Department of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University, Building 530, 440 Escondido Mall, Stanford, CA 94305-3030, USA.


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