Motility and swimming: universal description and generic trajectories

Alexander Farutin, Suhail M. Rizvi, Wei Fan Hu, Te Sheng Lin, Salima Rafai, Chaouqi Misbah*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: Autonomous locomotion is a ubiquitous phenomenon in biology and in physics of active systems at microscopic scale. This includes prokaryotic, eukaryotic cells (crawling and swimming) and artificial swimmers. An outstanding feature is the ability of these entities to follow complex trajectories, ranging from straight, curved (circular, helical..), to random-like ones. The non-straight nature of these trajectories is often explained as a consequence of the asymmetry of the particle or the medium in which it moves, or due to the presence of bounding walls, etc.. Here, we show that for a particle driven by a concentration field of an active species, straight, circular and helical trajectories emerge naturally in the absence of asymmetry of the particle or that of suspending medium. Our proof is based on general considerations, without referring to an explicit form of a model. We show that these three trajectories correspond to self-congruent solutions. Self-congruency means that the states of the system at different moments of time can be made identical by an appropriate combination of rotation and translation of the coordinate space. We show that these solutions are exhibited by spherically symmetric particles as a result of a series of pitchfork bifurcations, leading to spontaneous symmetry breaking in the concentration field driving the particle motility. Self-congruent dynamics in one and two dimensions are analyzed as well. Finally, we present a simple explicit nonlinear exactly solvable model of fully isotropic phoretic particle that shows the transitions from a non-motile state to straight motion to circular motion to helical motion as a series of spontaneous symmetry-breaking bifurcations. Whether a system exhibits or not a given trajectory only depends on the numerical values of parameters entering the model, while asymmetry of swimmer shape, or anisotropy of the suspending medium, or influence of bounding walls are not necessary. Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Article number135
JournalEuropean Physical Journal E
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023


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