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  1. Collective cell migration in 3D extracellular matrix (ECM) is crucial to many physiological and pathological processes. Migrating cells can generate active pulling forces via actin filament contraction, which are transmitted to the ECM fibers and lead to a dynamically evolving force network in the system. Here, we elucidate the role of this force network in regulating collective cell behaviors using a minimal active-particle-on-network (APN) model, in which active particles can pull the fibers and hop between neighboring nodes of the network following local durotaxis. Our model reveals a dynamic transition as the particle number density approaches a critical value, from an “absorbing” state containing isolated stationary small particle clusters, to an “active” state containing a single large cluster undergoing constant dynamic reorganization. This reorganization is dominated by a subset of highly dynamic “radical” particles in the cluster, whose number also exhibits a transition at the same critical density. The transition is underlaid by the percolation of “influence spheres” due to the particle pulling forces. Our results suggest a robust mechanism based on ECM-mediated mechanical coupling for collective cell behaviors in 3D ECM. 
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  2. Tunable dry adhesion is a crucial mechanism in compliant manipulation. The gripping force can be controlled by reversibly varying the physical properties (e.g., stiffness) of the composite via external stimuli. The maximal gripping force Fmaxand its tunability depend on, among other factors, the stress distribution on the gripping interface and its fracture dynamics (during detaching), which in turn are determined by the composite microstructure. Here, we present a computational framework for the modeling and design of a class of binary smart composites containing a porous low-melting-point alloy (LMPA) phase and a polymer phase, in order to achieve desirable dynamically tunable dry adhesion. We employ spatial correlation functions to quantify, model, and represent the complex bi-continuous microstructure of the composites, from which a wide spectrum of realistic virtual 3D composite microstructures can be generated using stochastic optimization. A recently developed volume-compensated lattice-particle method is then employed to model the dynamic interfacial fracture process, where the gripper is detached from the object, to compute Fmaxfor different composite microstructures. We focus on the interface defect tuning mechanism for dry adhesion tuning enabled by the composite, and find that for an optimal microstructure among the ones studied here, a tenfold dynamic tuning of Fmaxbefore and after the thermal expansion of the LMPA phase can be achieved. Our computational results can provide valuable guidance for experimental fabrication of the LMPA–polymer composites.

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