Growth in active matter systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Physics and Astronomy


Active matter has long been of interest to soft matter physicists.
Allowing the individual units of a material to consume energy and undergo dynamics can break the constraints of equilibrium statistical mechanics. So far research has predominantly focussed on movement, on self-motility and collective motion. In this project I will look into a less studied active matter phenomena, growth.

The project will involve studying how bacterial colonies grow when submerged in soft gels. Experimental methods will be developed to characterise both the interaction of the colonies with the gel matrix and the internal dynamics of the colony. A further aim will be to apply the techniques and understanding gained to more practical systems such as tumour growth and foodstuffs.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509644/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1861527 Studentship EP/N509644/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2020 Edward Muir
Description - Discovered that Bacteria, when immobilised in a solid, from ellipsoidal colonies. The morphology of these colonies can be predicted by a combination of classical fracture mechanics theories and new small scale fracture theories. As a result of the confirmation of these predictions, one can then predict the various material properties/ pressures required for bacteria to fracture gels. This is useful for food contamination studies or perhaps as a model system for metastasis.

Have developed methods for testing material properties at small scale (where they behave very differently from their large scale properties). These methods include an oil injection/ microscopy system capable of measuring the shape of oil droplets blown in gels, which is useful for experiments in fracking type setups.
Exploitation Route Findings on the pressure required for bacteria to break gels might be used by people interested in food contamination or those interested in metastasis.

Oil injection system might be interesting to people studying small scale fracture (which determines the strength of materials).
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Construction,Environment,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Other

Title Moulded Pure Shear Test Piece 
Description Set up for measuring the fracture energy of extremely soft and brittle gels. Gels can be moulded into set up to prevent damage. 
Type Of Material Antibody 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Fracture energy of Agar and Agarose has been measured as a function of gel concentration. Could be applied to other brittle gels. 
Title Oil injection/ Microscopy System 
Description A system for quantitively measuring the shapes of nanolitre sized oil droplets grown in gels. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Has shown that at small scales fractures behave differently than at large scales. This is a means of determining soft materials maximum failure strength.