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Complex fluids affect low-Reynolds number locomotion in a kinematic-dependent manner


In order to improve our understanding of the self-propulsion of swimming microorganisms in viscoelastic fluids, we study experimentally the locomotion of three artificial macro-scale swimmers in Newtonian and synthetic Boger fluids. Each swimmer is made of a rigid head and a tail whose dynamics leads to viscous propulsion. By considering three different kinematics of the tail (helical rigid, planar flexible, and helical flexible) in the same fluid, we demonstrate experimentally that the impact of viscoelasticity on the locomotion speed of the swimmers depends crucially on the kinematics of the tails. Specifically, rigid helical swimmers see no change in their swimming speed, swimmers with planar rod-like flexible tails always swim faster, while those with flexible ribbon-like tails undergoing helical deformation go systematically slower. Our study points to a subtle interplay between tail deformation, actuation, and viscoelastic stresses, and is relevant to the three-dimensional dynamics of flagellated cells in non-Newtonian fluids.

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We thank S. Gómez for his help during the experimental campaign. This research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (Grant CBET-0746285 to E.L.), Moshisnky Foundation and PAPIIT-UNAM program (IN101312 to R.Z.), the UC MEXUS-CONACYT program, and the European Union (Marie Curie CIG to E.L.). T.D.M.-J. is supported by a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Roberto Zenit.

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Godínez, F.A., Koens, L., Montenegro-Johnson, T.D. et al. Complex fluids affect low-Reynolds number locomotion in a kinematic-dependent manner. Exp Fluids 56, 97 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00348-015-1961-3

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  • Swimming Speed
  • Viscoelastic Fluid
  • Deborah Number
  • Swimming Velocity
  • Locomotion Speed