Fluid dynamics of bacterial turbulence

Phys Rev Lett. 2013 May 31;110(22):228102. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.110.228102. Epub 2013 May 28.


Self-sustained turbulent structures have been observed in a wide range of living fluids, yet no quantitative theory exists to explain their properties. We report experiments on active turbulence in highly concentrated 3D suspensions of Bacillus subtilis and compare them with a minimal fourth-order vector-field theory for incompressible bacterial dynamics. Velocimetry of bacteria and surrounding fluid, determined by imaging cells and tracking colloidal tracers, yields consistent results for velocity statistics and correlations over 2 orders of magnitude in kinetic energy, revealing a decrease of fluid memory with increasing swimming activity and linear scaling between kinetic energy and enstrophy. The best-fit model allows for quantitative agreement with experimental data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / chemistry*
  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology*
  • Bacteriological Techniques / methods
  • Colloids / chemistry
  • Computer Simulation
  • Hydrodynamics*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Models, Biological*


  • Colloids