Collective behavior of squirmers in thin films

Soft Matter. 2024 Apr 19. doi: 10.1039/d4sm00075g. Online ahead of print.


Bacteria in biofilms form complex structures and can collectively migrate within mobile aggregates, which is referred to as swarming. This behavior is influenced by a combination of various factors, including morphological characteristics and propulsive forces of swimmers, their volume fraction within a confined environment, and hydrodynamic and steric interactions between them. In our study, we employ the squirmer model for microswimmers and the dissipative particle dynamics method for fluid modeling to investigate the collective motion of swimmers in thin films. The film thickness permits a free orientation of non-spherical squirmers, but constraints them to form a two-layered structure at maximum. Structural and dynamic properties of squirmer suspensions confined within the slit are analyzed for different volume fractions of swimmers, motility types (e.g., pusher, neutral squirmer, puller), and the presence of a rotlet dipolar flow field, which mimics the counter-rotating flow generated by flagellated bacteria. Different states are characterized, including a gas-like phase, swarming, and motility-induced phase separation, as a function of increasing volume fraction. Our study highlights the importance of an anisotropic swimmer shape, hydrodynamic interactions between squirmers, and their interaction with the walls for the emergence of different collective behaviors. Interestingly, the formation of collective structures may not be symmetric with respect to the two walls. Furthermore, the presence of a rotlet dipole significantly mitigates differences in the collective behavior between various swimmer types. These results contribute to a better understanding of the formation of bacterial biofilms and the emergence of collective states in confined active matter.