On the optimal shape of magnetic swimmers

Hermes Gadelha*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Magnetic actuation of elasto-magnetic devices has long been proposed as a simple way to propel fluid and achieve locomotion in environments dominated by viscous forces. Under the action of an oscillating magnetic field, a permanent magnet, when attached to an elastic tail, is able to generate bending waves and sufficient thrust for propulsion. We study the hydrodynamical effects of the magnetic head geometry using a geometrically exact formulation for the elastic tail elastohydrodynamics. We show that the spherical head geometry fails to take full advantage of the propulsive potential from the flexible tail. Nevertheless, while elongated prolate spheroids demonstrate a superior swimming performance, this is still regulated by the nature of the imposed magnetic field. Interestingly, the highest swimming speed is observed when the magnitude of the magnetic field is weak due to delays between the orientation of the magnetic moment and the oscillating magnetic field. This allows the stored elastic energy from the deformed tail to relax during the phase lag between the imposed magnetic field and the swimmer's magnetic moment, favouring in this way the net propulsion. In particular, this result suggests the existence of optimal magnetic actuations that are non-smooth, and even discontinuous in time, in order to fully explore the propulsive potential associated with the relaxation dynamics of periodically deformed elastic filaments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-84
Number of pages10
JournalRegular and Chaotic Dynamics
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • elastohydrodynamics and elastic filaments
  • magnetic actuation
  • micro-swimmers

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