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Denk, Jonas; Frey, Erwin (2020): Pattern-induced local symmetry breaking in active-matter systems. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 117, No. 50: pp. 31623-31630
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The emergence of macroscopic order and patterns is a central paradigm in systems of (self-)propelled agents and a key component in the structuring of many biological systems. The relationships between the ordering process and the underlying microscopic interactions have been extensively explored both experimentally and theoretically. While emerging patterns often show one specific symmetry (e.g., nematic lane patterns or polarized traveling flocks), depending on the symmetry of the alignment interactions patterns with different symmetries can apparently coexist. Indeed, recent experiments with an actomysin motility assay suggest that polar and nematic patterns of actin filaments can interact and dynamically transform into each other. However, theoretical understanding of the mechanism responsible remains elusive. Here, we present a kinetic approach complemented by a hydrodynamic theory for agents with mixed alignment symmetries, which captures the experimentally observed phenomenology and provides a theoretical explanation for the coexistence and interaction of patterns with different symmetries. We show that local, pattern-induced symmetry breaking can account for dynamically coexisting patterns with different symmetries. Specifically, in a regime with moderate densities and a weak polar bias in the alignment interaction, nematic bands show a local symmetry-breaking instability within their high-density core region, which induces the formation of polar waves along the bands. These instabilities eventually result in a self-organized system of nematic bands and polar waves that dynamically transform into each other. Our study reveals a mutual feedback mechanism between pattern formation and local symmetry breaking in active matter that has interesting consequences for structure formation in biological systems.