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  1. Using a minimal hydrodynamic model, we theoretically and computationally study the Couette flow of active gels in straight and annular two-dimensional channels subject to an externally imposed shear.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 24, 2025
  2. A machine learning model for reliable director fields calculation from raw experimental images of active nematics. The model is accurate, robust to noise and generalizable, enhancing analysis such as the detection and tracking of topological defects.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 21, 2025
  3. Microtubules and molecular motors are essential components of the cellular cytoskeleton, driving fundamental processes in vivo, including chromosome segregation and cargo transport. When reconstituted in vitro, these cytoskeletal proteins serve as energy-consuming building blocks to study the self-organization of active matter. Cytoskeletal active gels display rich emergent dynamics, including extensile flows, locally contractile asters, and bulk contraction. However, it is unclear how the protein–protein interaction kinetics set their contractile or extensile nature. Here, we explore the origin of the transition from extensile bundles to contractile asters in a minimal reconstituted system composed of stabilized microtubules, depletant, adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP), and clusters of kinesin-1 motors. We show that the microtubule-binding and unbinding kinetics of highly processive motor clusters set their ability to end-accumulate, which can drive polarity sorting of the microtubules and aster formation. We further demonstrate that the microscopic time scale of end-accumulation sets the emergent time scale of aster formation. Finally, we show that biochemical regulation is insufficient to fully explain the transition as generic aligning interactions through depletion, cross-linking, or excluded volume interactions can drive bundle formation despite end-accumulating motors. The extensile-to-contractile transition is well captured by a simple self-assembly model where nematic and polar aligning interactions compete to form either bundles or asters. Starting from a five-dimensional organization phase space, we identify a single control parameter given by the ratio of the different component concentrations that dictates the material-scale organization. Overall, this work shows that the interplay of biochemical and mechanical tuning at the microscopic level controls the robust self-organization of active cytoskeletal materials.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 9, 2025
  4. Abstract

    We use coarse-grained molecular-dynamics simulations to study the motility of a 2D vesicle containing self-propelled rods, as a function of the vesicle bending rigidity and the number density, length, and activity of the enclosed rods. Above a threshold value of the rod length, distinct dynamical regimes emerge, including a dramatic enhancement of vesicle motility characterized by a highly persistent random walk. These regimes are determined by clustering of the rods within the vesicle; the maximum motility state arises when there is one long-lived polar cluster. We develop a scaling theory that predicts the dynamical regimes as a function of control parameters, and shows that feedback between activity and passive membrane forces govern the rod organization. These findings yield design principles for building self-propelled superstructures using independent active agents under deformable confinement.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  5. Confinement can be used to systematically tame turbulent dynamics occurring in active fluids. Although periodic channels are the simplest geometries to study confinement numerically, the corresponding experimental realizations require closed racetracks. Here, we computationally study 2D active nematics confined to such a geometry—an annulus. By systematically varying the annulus inner radius and channel width, we bridge the behaviors observed in the previously studied asymptotic limits of the annulus geometry: a disk and an infinite channel. We identify new steady-state behaviors, which reveal the influence of boundary curvature and its interplay with confinement. We also show that, below a threshold inner radius, the dynamics are insensitive to the presence of the inner hole. We explain this insensitivity through a simple scaling analysis. Our work sheds further light on design principles for using confinement to control the dynamics of active nematics. 
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  6. Abstract

    How active stresses generated by molecular motors set the large-scale mechanics of the cell cytoskeleton remains poorly understood. Here, we combine experiments and theory to demonstrate how the emergent properties of a biomimetic active crosslinked gel depend on the properties of its microscopic constituents. We show that an extensile nematic elastomer exhibits two distinct activity-driven instabilities, spontaneously bending in-plane or buckling out-of-plane depending on its composition. Molecular motors play a dual antagonistic role, fluidizing or stiffening the gel depending on the ATP concentration. We demonstrate how active and elastic stresses are set by each component, providing estimates for the active gel theory parameters. Finally, activity and elasticity were manipulated in situ with light-activable motor proteins, controlling the direction of the instability optically. These results highlight how cytoskeletal stresses regulate the self-organization of living matter and set the foundations for the rational design and optogenetic control of active materials.

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  7. Abstract An active Brownian particle is a minimal model for a self-propelled colloid in a dissipative environment. Experiments and simulations show that, in the presence of boundaries and obstacles, active Brownian particle systems approach nontrivial nonequilibrium steady states with intriguing phenomenology, such as accumulation at boundaries, ratchet effects, and long-range depletion interactions. Nevertheless, theoretical analysis of these phenomena has proven difficult. Here, we address this theoretical challenge in the context of non-interacting particles in two dimensions, basing our analysis on the steady-state Smoluchowski equation for the one-particle distribution function. Our primary result is an approximation strategy that connects asymptotic solutions of the Smoluchowski equation to boundary conditions. We test this approximation against the exact analytic solution in a 2D planar geometry, as well as numerical solutions in circular and elliptic geometries. We find good agreement so long as the boundary conditions do not vary too rapidly with respect to the persistence length of particle trajectories. Our results are relevant for characterizing long-range flows and depletion interactions in such systems. In particular, our framework shows how such behaviors are connected to the breaking of detailed balance at the boundaries. 
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  8. Abstract

    In active matter systems, deformable boundaries provide a mechanism to organize internal active stresses. To study a minimal model of such a system, we perform particle-based simulations of an elastic vesicle containing a collection of polar active filaments. The interplay between the active stress organization due to interparticle interactions and that due to the deformability of the confinement leads to a variety of filament spatiotemporal organizations that have not been observed in bulk systems or under rigid confinement, including highly-aligned rings and caps. In turn, these filament assemblies drive dramatic and tunable transformations of the vesicle shape and its dynamics. We present simple scaling models that reveal the mechanisms underlying these emergent behaviors and yield design principles for engineering active materials with targeted shape dynamics.

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  9. null (Ed.)