Harnessing Medium Anisotropy to Control Active Matter

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Conspectus Active matter is a wide class of nonequilibrium systems consisting of interacting self-propelled agents transducing the energy stored in the environment into mechanical motion. Numerous examples range from microscopic cytoskeletal filaments and swimming organisms (bacteria and unicellular algae), synthetic catalytic nanomotors, colloidal self-propelled Janus particles, to macroscopic bird flocks, fish schools, and even human crowds. Active matter demonstrates a remarkable tendency toward self-organization and development of collective states with the long-range spatial order. Furthermore, active materials exhibit properties that are not present in traditional materials like plastics or ceramics: self-repair, shape change, and adaptation.A suspension of microscopic swimmers, such as motile bacteria or self-propelled colloids (active suspensions), is possibly the simplest and the most explored realization of active matter. Recent studies of active suspensions revealed a wealth of unexpected behaviors, from a dramatic reduction of the effective viscosity, enhanced mixing and self-diffusion, rectification of chaotic motion, to artificial rheotaxis (drift against the imposed flow) and cross-stream migration. To date, most of the studies of active matter are performed in isotropic suspending medium, like water with the addition of some "fuel", e.g., nutrient for bacteria or H2O2 for catalytic bimetallic AuPt nanorods. A highly structured anisotropic suspending medium represented by lyotropic liquid crystal (water-soluble) opens enormous opportunities to control and manipulate active matter.Liquid crystals exhibit properties intermediate between solid and liquids; they may flow like a liquid but respond to deformations as a solid due to a crystal-like orientation of molecules. Liquid crystals doped by a small amount of active component represent a new class of composite materials (living liquid crystals or LLCs) with unusual mechanical and optical properties. LLCs demonstrate a variety of highly organized dynamic collective states, spontaneous formation of dynamic textures of topological defects (singularities of local molecular orientation), controlled and reconfigurable transport of cargo particles, manipulation of individual trajectories of microswimmers, and many others. Besides insights into fundamental mechanisms governing active materials, living liquid crystals may have intriguing applications, such as the design of new classes of soft adaptive bioinspired materials capable to respond to physical and chemical stimuli, such as light, magnetic, and electric fields, mechanical shear, airborne pollutants, and bacterial toxins. This Account details the most recent developments in the field of LLCs and discusses how the anisotropy of liquid crystals can be harnessed to control and manipulate active materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3023-3030
Number of pages8
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 18 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry


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