Living Clusters and Crystals from Low-Density Suspensions of Active Colloids

BM Mognetti and A Saric and S Angioletti-Uberti and A Cacciuto and C Valeriani and D Frenkel, PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS, 111, 245702 (2013).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.111.245702

Recent studies aimed at investigating artificial analogs of bacterial colonies have shown that low-density suspensions of self-propelled particles confined in two dimensions can assemble into finite aggregates that merge and split, but have a typical size that remains constant (living clusters). In this Letter, we address the problem of the formation of living clusters and crystals of active particles in three dimensions. We study two systems: self-propelled particles interacting via a generic attractive potential and colloids that can move toward each other as a result of active agents (e.g., by molecular motors). In both cases, fluidlike "living" clusters form. We explain this general feature in terms of the balance between active forces and regression to thermodynamic equilibrium. This balance can be quantified in terms of a dimensionless number that allows us to collapse the observed clustering behavior onto a universal curve. We also discuss how active motion affects the kinetics of crystal formation.

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