Predator–prey interactions between droplets driven by non-reciprocal oil exchange

Caleb H. Meredith, Pepijn G. Moerman, Jan Groenewold, Yu Jen Chiu, Willem K. Kegel, Alfons van Blaaderen, Lauren D. Zarzar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Chemotactic interactions are ubiquitous in nature and can lead to non-reciprocal and complex emergent behaviour in multibody systems. However, developing synthetic, inanimate embodiments of a chemomechanical framework to generate non-reciprocal interactions of tunable strength and directionality has been challenging. Here we show how chemotactic signalling between microscale oil droplets of different chemistries in micellar surfactant solutions can result in predator–prey-like non-reciprocal chasing interactions. The interactions and dynamic self-organization result from the net directional, micelle-mediated transport of oil between emulsion droplets of differing composition and are powered by the free energy of mixing. We systematically elucidated chemical design rules to tune the interactions between droplets by varying the oil and surfactant chemical structure and concentration. Through the integration of experiment and simulation, we also investigated the active behaviour and dynamic reorganization of multidroplet clusters. Our findings demonstrate how chemically minimal systems can be designed with controllable, non-reciprocal chemotactic interactions to generate emergent self-organization and collective behaviours reminiscent of biological systems. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1136-1142
Number of pages7
JournalNature Chemistry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)


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