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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 27;107(17):7669-73. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0912455107. Epub 2010 Apr 12.

Hydrodynamic synchronization of colloidal oscillators.

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Cavendish Laboratory and Nanoscience Center, University of Cambridge, JJ Thomson Avenue, CB3 0HE Cambridge, United Kingdom.


Two colloidal spheres are maintained in oscillation by switching the position of an optical trap when a sphere reaches a limit position, leading to oscillations that are bounded in amplitude but free in phase and period. The interaction between the oscillators is only through the hydrodynamic flow induced by their motion. We prove that in the absence of stochastic noise the antiphase dynamical state is stable, and we show how the period depends on coupling strength. Both features are observed experimentally. As the natural frequencies of the oscillators are made progressively different, the coordination is quickly lost. These results help one to understand the origin of hydrodynamic synchronization and how the dynamics can be tuned. Cilia and flagella are biological systems coupled hydrodynamically, exhibiting dramatic collective motions. We propose that weakly correlated phase fluctuations, with one of the oscillators typically processing the other, are characteristic of hydrodynamically coupled systems in the presence of thermal noise.

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