Unstable fronts and motile structures formed by microrollers

Michelle Driscoll*, Blaise Delmotte, Mena Youssef, Stefano Sacanna, Aleksandar Donev, Paul Chaikin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

167 Scopus citations


Condensation of objects into stable clusters occurs naturally in equilibrium and driven systems. It is commonly held that potential interactions, depletion forces, or sensing are the only mechanisms which can create long-lived compact structures. Here we show that persistent motile structures can form spontaneously from hydrodynamic interactions alone, with no sensing or potential interactions. We study this structure formation in a system of colloidal rollers suspended and translating above a floor, using both experiments and large-scale three-dimensional simulations. In this system, clusters originate from a previously unreported fingering instability, where fingers pinch off from an unstable front to form autonomous 'critters', whose size is selected by the height of the particles above the floor. These critters are a stable state of the system, move much faster than individual particles, and quickly respond to a changing drive. With speed and direction set by a rotating magnetic field, these active structures offer interesting possibilities for guided transport, flow generation, and mixing at the microscale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-379
Number of pages5
JournalNature Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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