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Gyrotactic swimmer dispersion in pipe flow: testing the theory

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
DateAccepted/In press - 7 Feb 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 7 Mar 2017
DatePublished (current) - 10 Apr 2017
Number of pages26
Pages (from-to)481-506
Early online date7/03/17
Original languageEnglish


Suspensions of microswimmers are a rich source of fascinating new fluid mechanics. Recently we predicted the active pipe flow dispersion of gyrotactic microalgae, whose orientation is biased by gravity and flow shear. Analytical theory predicts that these active swimmers disperse in a markedly distinct manner from passive tracers (Taylor dispersion). Dispersing swimmers display non-zero drift and effective diffusivity that is non-monotonic with Péclet number. Such predictions agree with numerical simulations, but hitherto have not been tested experimentally. Here, to facilitate comparison, we obtain new solutions of the axial dispersion theory accounting both for swimmer negative buoyancy and a local nonlinear response of swimmers to shear, provided by two alternative microscopic stochastic descriptions. We obtain new predictions for suspensions of the model swimming alga Dunaliella salina, whose motility and buoyant mass we parametrise using tracking video microscopy. We then present a new experimental method to measure gyrotactic dispersion using fluorescently stained D. salina and provide a preliminary comparison with predictions of a non-zero drift above the mean flow for each microscopic stochastic description. Finally, we propose further experiments for a full experimental characterisation of gyrotactic dispersion measures and discuss the implications of our results for algal dispersion in industrial photobioreactors.

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    Research areas

  • biological fluid dynamics, micro-organism dynamics, swimming/flying

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