Research ArticleMATERIALS SCIENCE

Tunable structure and dynamics of active liquid crystals

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Science Advances  12 Oct 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 10, eaat7779
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat7779

Abstract

Active materials are capable of converting free energy into directional motion, giving rise to notable dynamical phenomena. Developing a general understanding of their structure in relation to the underlying nonequilibrium physics would provide a route toward control of their dynamic behavior and pave the way for potential applications. The active system considered here consists of a quasi–two-dimensional sheet of short (≈1 μm) actin filaments driven by myosin II motors. By adopting a concerted theoretical and experimental strategy, new insights are gained into the nonequilibrium properties of active nematics over a wide range of internal activity levels. In particular, it is shown that topological defect interactions can be led to transition from attractive to repulsive as a function of initial defect separation and relative orientation. Furthermore, by examining the +1/2 defect morphology as a function of activity, we found that the apparent elastic properties of the system (the ratio of bend-to-splay elastic moduli) are altered considerably by increased activity, leading to an effectively lower bend elasticity. At high levels of activity, the topological defects that decorate the material exhibit a liquid-like structure and adopt preferred orientations depending on their topological charge. Together, these results suggest that it should be possible to tune internal stresses in active nematic systems with the goal of designing out-of-equilibrium structures with engineered dynamic responses.

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