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Squirmers with swirl: a model for Volvox swimming

  • T. J. Pedley (a1), D. R. Brumley (a2) (a3) and R. E. Goldstein (a1)

Colonies of the green alga Volvox are spheres that swim through the beating of pairs of flagella on their surface somatic cells. The somatic cells themselves are mounted rigidly in a polymeric extracellular matrix, fixing the orientation of the flagella so that they beat approximately in a meridional plane, with axis of symmetry in the swimming direction, but with a roughly $20^{\circ }$ azimuthal offset which results in the eponymous rotation of the colonies about a body-fixed axis. Experiments on colonies of Volvox carteri held stationary on a micropipette show that the beating pattern takes the form of a symplectic metachronal wave (Brumley et al. Phys. Rev. Lett., vol. 109, 2012, 268102). Here we extend the Lighthill/Blake axisymmetric, Stokes-flow model of a free-swimming spherical squirmer (Lighthill Commun. Pure Appl. Maths, vol. 5, 1952, pp. 109–118; Blake J. Fluid Mech., vol. 46, 1971b, pp. 199–208) to include azimuthal swirl. The measured kinematics of the metachronal wave for 60 different colonies are used to calculate the coefficients in the eigenfunction expansions and hence predict the mean swimming speeds and rotation rates, proportional to the square of the beating amplitude, as functions of colony radius. As a test of the squirmer model, the results are compared with measurements (Drescher et al. Phys. Rev. Lett., vol. 102, 2009, 168101) of the mean swimming speeds and angular velocities of a different set of 220 colonies, also given as functions of colony radius. The predicted variation with radius is qualitatively correct, but the model underestimates both the mean swimming speed and the mean angular velocity unless the amplitude of the flagellar beat is taken to be larger than previously thought. The reasons for this discrepancy are discussed.

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