Scalar φ4 field theory for active-particle phase separation

Nat Commun. 2014 Jul 10;5:4351. doi: 10.1038/ncomms5351.


Recent theories predict phase separation among orientationally disordered active particles whose propulsion speed decreases rapidly enough with density. Coarse-grained models of this process show time-reversal symmetry (detailed balance) to be restored for uniform states, but broken by gradient terms; hence, detailed-balance violation is strongly coupled to interfacial phenomena. To explore the subtle generic physics resulting from such coupling, we here introduce 'Active Model B'. This is a scalar φ(4) field theory (or phase-field model) that minimally violates detailed balance via a leading-order square-gradient term. We find that this additional term has modest effects on coarsening dynamics, but alters the static phase diagram by creating a jump in (thermodynamic) pressure across flat interfaces. Both results are surprising, since interfacial phenomena are always strongly implicated in coarsening dynamics but are, in detailed-balance systems, irrelevant for phase equilibria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't