Lamellar ordering, droplet formation and phase inversion in exotic active emulsions

Research paper by Francesco Bonelli, Livio Nicola Carenza, Giuseppe Gonnella, Davide Marenduzzo, Enzo Orlandini, Adriano Tiribocchi

Indexed on: 18 Feb '18Published on: 18 Feb '18Published in: arXiv - Physics - Biological Physics


We study numerically the behaviour of a mixture of a passive isotropic fluid and an active polar gel, in the presence of a surfactant favouring emulsification. Focussing on parameters for which the underlying free energy favours the lamellar phase in the passive limit, we show that the interplay between nonequilibrium and thermodynamic forces creates a range of multifarious exotic emulsions. When the active component is contractile (e.g., an actomyosin solution), moderate activity enhances the efficiency of lamellar ordering, whereas strong activity favours the creation of passive droplets within an active matrix. For extensile activity (occurring, e.g., in microtubule-motor suspensions), instead, we observe an emulsion of spontaneously rotating droplets of different size. By tuning the overall composition, we can create high internal phase emulsions, which undergo sudden phase inversion when activity is switched off. Therefore, we find that activity provides a single control parameter to design composite materials with a strikingly rich range of morphologies.