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Theories of Active Phase Separation

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SPLW01 - Building a bridge between non-equilibrium statistical physics and biology

Soft materials often undergo phase separation; for example attracting colloids separate into dense and dilute phases, while foams, emulsions and other states can be viewed as the result of incomplete or arrested phase separation. There are long established, canonical models for such phase separations which are careful to respect the underlying time-reversal symmetry of dynamics in systems close to thermal equilibrium. In active systems, this symmetry is broken, and new terms need to be added to such models which can entirely change their behaviour. One striking example is that the Ostwald process, in which phase separation proceeds by growth of large droplets at the expense of smaller ones, can go into reverse. When chemical species are not conserved but undergo reactions, activity can similarly disrupt phase separation resulting in domains of finite size when the passive counterpart undergoes full phase separation. Since biological systems are active by default, these new routes to partial or complete phase separation may be relevant at scales ranging from subcellular to ecological.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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