Dynamical clustering and phase separation in suspensions of self-propelled colloidal particles

Phys Rev Lett. 2013 Jun 7;110(23):238301. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.110.238301. Epub 2013 Jun 5.


We study experimentally and numerically a (quasi-)two-dimensional colloidal suspension of self-propelled spherical particles. The particles are carbon-coated Janus particles, which are propelled due to diffusiophoresis in a near-critical water-lutidine mixture. At low densities, we find that the driving stabilizes small clusters. At higher densities, the suspension undergoes a phase separation into large clusters and a dilute gas phase. The same qualitative behavior is observed in simulations of a minimal model for repulsive self-propelled particles lacking any alignment interactions. The observed behavior is rationalized in terms of a dynamical instability due to the self-trapping of self-propelled particles.