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Powered Motion at the Nanoscale

IRG2 makes, models, and studies autonomous motors and pumps that convert the free energy of local chemical, optical, thermal, and acoustic fields to motion. In addition to providing information about the mechanisms of motility, the study of synthetic motors helps address fundamental questions about emergent collective behavior at low Reynolds number and on length scales from sub-nanometers to hundreds of micrometers. Much of our understanding of active matter derives from continuum theories coupled to observations of complex biological swimmers or externally driven colloidal particles. The observation in abiotic systems of many behaviors previously associated with purely biological processes suggest intriguing questions as to the underlying principles that govern both. The IRG2 team pursues a bottom-up approach to understanding motility, sensing and emergent collective behavior in autonomously driven synthetic systems by combining theory and numerical modeling with the synthesis and experimental study of new classes of motors.

Important findings in IRG2 include the discovery of synthetic autonomous nanomotors and micropumps driven by catalysis and light, elucidation of their self-electrophoretic propulsion mechanisms, discovery of complex swarming, predator-prey, and spatio-temporal oscillatory behavior in colloidal motor assemblies, engineering of chemotaxis, steering, and cargo delivery in motor systems, demonstration of catalytically powered motion at the nm scale of individual catalyst molecules, including (non-motor) enzyme molecules, characterization of momentum transfer by active swimmers at length scales from colloidal to molecular, and discovery of two new acoustic motor propulsion mechanisms that are tolerant of electrolyte solutions and gel media, including the interior of living cells.