Emergence of coexisting ordered states in active matter systems

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  20 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6399, pp. 255-258
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao5434

A balance between motion and cooperation

In active matter systems, the infusion of energy and motion drives ordering processes. Huber et al. present a combination of experiments and numerical simulations on an active matter system consisting of actin filaments propelled across a surface by surface-attached myosin motor proteins. Adding a depletion agent—polymer chains that weakened interactions between the actin filaments—drove the system between ferromagnetic (polar) and nematic (liquid crystal) ordering.

Science, this issue p. 255


Active systems can produce a far greater variety of ordered patterns than conventional equilibrium systems. In particular, transitions between disorder and either polar- or nematically ordered phases have been predicted and observed in two-dimensional active systems. However, coexistence between phases of different types of order has not been reported. We demonstrate the emergence of dynamic coexistence of ordered states with fluctuating nematic and polar symmetry in an actomyosin motility assay. Combining experiments with agent-based simulations, we identify sufficiently weak interactions that lack a clear alignment symmetry as a prerequisite for coexistence. Thus, the symmetry of macroscopic order becomes an emergent and dynamic property of the active system. These results provide a pathway by which living systems can express different types of order by using identical building blocks.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science