ATP-driven microtubule-kinesin bundles can self-assemble into two-dimensional active liquid crystals (ALCs) that exhibit a rich creation and annihilation dynamics of topological defects, reminiscent of particle-pair production processes in quantum systems. This recent discovery has sparked considerable interest but a quantitative theoretical description is still lacking. We present and validate a minimal continuum theory for this new class of active matter systems by generalizing the classical Landau-de Gennes free-energy to account for the experimentally observed spontaneous buckling of motor-driven extensile microtubule bundles. The resulting model agrees with recently published data and predicts a regime of antipolar order. Our analysis implies that ALCs are governed by the same generic ordering principles that determine the non-equilibrium dynamics of dense bacterial suspensions and elastic bilayer materials. Moreover, the theory manifests an energetic analogy with strongly interacting quantum gases. Generally, our results suggest that complex nonequilibrium pattern-formation phenomena might be predictable from a few fundamental symmetry-breaking and scale-selection principles.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)
- Landau-de Gennes free-energy
- Stokes flow
- active liquid crystals