Spontaneous flow instabilities of active polar fluids in three dimensions

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Active polar fluids exhibit spontaneous flow when sufficient active stress is generated by internal molecular mechanisms. This is also referred to as an active Fréedericksz transition. Experiments have revealed the existence of competing in-plane and out-of-plane instabilities in three-dimensional active matter. So far, however, a theoretical model reconciling all observations is missing. In particular, the role of boundary conditions in these instabilities still needs to be explained. Here, we characterize the spontaneous flow transition in a symmetry-preserving three-dimensional active Ericksen-Leslie model, showing that the boundary conditions select the emergent behavior. Using nonlinear numerical solutions and linear perturbation analysis, we explain the mechanism for both in-plane and out-of-plane instabilities under extensile active stress for perpendicular polarity anchoring at the boundary, whereas parallel anchoring only permits in-plane flows under contractile stress or out-of-plane wrinkling under extensile stress.


Original languageEnglish
Article numberL022061
JournalPhysical Review Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

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ORCID /0000-0003-4414-4340/work/143497460


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