Phenomenology and simulations of active fluids
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Active fluids are an interesting new class of non-equilibrium systems in physics. In such fluids, the system is forced out of equilibrium by the individual active particles - in contrast to driven systems where the system is forced out of equilibrium by some external forces. Some biological examples of active fluids are bacterial suspensions and actomyosin solutions inside eukaryotic cells. In the case of bacterial suspensions, the fluid is stirred internally by the swimming bacteria and as a consequence of this, active fluids can have some interesting physics of their own such as hydrodynamic instabilities and spontaneous symmetry breaking. Here, in particular, we study how such instabilities may arise and how they may lead to a non-equilibrium steady state. We also study numerically a droplet of active matter as a simple representation of cell extract comprising actomyosin solution bounded by a cell membrane. It is widely believed that cell motility is driven only by actin polymerization pushing against the cell membrane. However, we show that even in the absence of actin polymerization, actin-myosin contraction alone can also generate a unidirectional motion. This happens due to the spontaneous breakdown of a discrete symmetry at large enough activity (i.e. actomyosin contraction). This non-equilibrium phase transition from stationary to motile state is somewhat similar to the second order phase transition in equilibrium thermodynamics. Finally, we studied the behaviour of an active droplet on a two-dimensional surface to mimic cell crawling. Whereas cell migration in 3D environment maybe driven mainly by actin-myosin contraction (described above), cell crawling on a 2D surface is driven mainly by actin polymerisation. Here we find that localised actin polymerisation can cause protrusion in the cell membrane which is qualitatively similar to lamellipodium formation in cell crawling.