Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Physicists show how lifeless particles can become 'life-like' by switching behaviors

03.11.2017

Complex behavior emerges from a simple system in a fixed environment

Physicists at Emory University have shown how a system of lifeless particles can become "life-like" by collectively switching back and forth between crystalline and fluid states -- even when the environment remains stable.


The Burton lab studies tiny, plastic particles as a model for more complex systems. The particles are suspended in a vacuum chamber filled with a plasma -- ionized argon gas.

Photo by Justin Burton, Emory University

Physical Review Letters recently published the findings, the first experimental realization of such dynamics.

"We've discovered perhaps the simplest physical system that can consistently keep changing behavior over time in a fixed environment," says Justin Burton, Emory assistant professor of physics. "In fact, the system is so simple we never expected to see such a complex property emerge from it."

Many living systems -- from fireflies to neurons -- switch behaviors collectively, firing on and then shutting off. The current paper, however, involved a non-living system: Plastic particles, tiny as dust specks, that have no "on" or "off" switches.

"The individual particles cannot change between crystalline and fluid states," Burton says. "The switching emerges when there are collections of these particles -- in fact, as few as 40. Our findings suggest that the ability for a system to switch behaviors over any time scale is more universal than previously thought."

The Burton lab studies the tiny, plastic particles as a model for more complex systems. They can mimic the properties of real phenomena, such as the melting of a solid, and reveal how a system changes when it is driven by forces.

The particles are suspended in a vacuum chamber filled with a plasma -- ionized argon gas. By altering the gas pressure inside the chamber, the lab members can study how the particles behave as they move between an excited, free-flowing state into a jammed, stable position.

The current discovery occurred after Emory graduate student Guram "Guga" Gogia tapped a shaker and slowly "salted" the particles into the vacuum chamber filled with the plasma, creating a single layer of particles levitating above a charged electrode. "I was just curious how the particles would behave over time if I set the parameters of the chamber at a low gas pressure, enabling them to move freely," Gogia says. "After a few minutes I could see with my naked eye that they were acting strangely."

From anywhere between tens of seconds to minutes, the particles would switch from moving in lockstep, or a rigid structure, to being in a melted gas-like state. It was surprising because the particles were not just melting and recrystallizing but going back and forth between the two states.

"Imagine if you left a tray of ice out on your counter at room temperature," Gogia says. "You wouldn't be surprised if melted. But if you kept the ice on the counter, you would be shocked if it kept turning back to ice and melting again."

Gogia conducted experiments to confirm and quantify the phenomenon. The findings could serve as a simple model for the study of emerging properties in non-equillibrium systems.

"Switching is an ubiquitous part of our physical world," Burton says. "Nothing stays in a steady state for long -- from the Earth's climate to the neurons in a human brain. Understanding how systems switch is a fundamental question in physics. Our model strips away the complexity of this behavior, providing the minimum ingredients necessary. That provides a base, a starting point, to help understand more complex systems."

Carol Clark | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Only an atom thick: Physicists succeed in measuring mechanical properties of 2D monolayer materials
17.01.2018 | Universität des Saarlandes

nachricht Black hole spin cranks-up radio volume
15.01.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

Im Focus: A thermometer for the oceans

Measurement of noble gases in Antarctic ice cores

The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Novel chip-based gene expression tool analyzes RNA quickly and accurately

18.01.2018 | Medical Engineering

Scientists on the road to discovering impact of urban road dust

18.01.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Gran Chaco: Biodiversity at High Risk

17.01.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>