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Journal Article

Geometry of thresholdless active flow in nematic microfluidics


Toner,  John
Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Max Planck Society;

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Green, R., Toner, J., & Vitelli, V. (2017). Geometry of thresholdless active flow in nematic microfluidics. Physical Review Fluids, 2(10): 104201. doi:10.1103/PhysRevFluids.2.104201.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0000-62F6-C
Active nematics are orientationally ordered but apolar fluids composed of interacting constituents individually powered by an internal source of energy. When activity exceeds a system-size-dependent threshold, spatially uniform active apolar fluids undergo a hydrodynamic instability leading to spontaneous macroscopic fluid flow. Here we show that a special class of spatially nonuniform configurations of such active apolar fluids display laminar (i.e., time-independent) flow even for arbitrarily small activity. We also show that two-dimensional active nematics confined on a surface of nonvanishing Gaussian curvature must necessarily experience a nonvanishing active force. This general conclusion follows from a key result of differential geometry: Geodesics must converge or diverge on surfaces with nonzero Gaussian curvature. We derive the conditions under which such curvatureinduced active forces generate thresholdless flow for two-dimensional curved shells. We then extend our analysis to bulk systems and showhowto induce thresholdless active flowby controlling the curvature of confining surfaces, external fields, or both. The resulting laminar flow fields are determined analytically in three experimentally realizable configurations that exemplify this general phenomenon: (i) toroidal shells with planar alignment, (ii) a cylinder with nonplanar boundary conditions, and (iii) a Frederiks cell that functions like a pump without moving parts. Our work suggests a robust design strategy for active microfluidic chips and could be tested with the recently discovered living liquid crystals.