Flocking from a quantum analogy: Spin-orbit coupling in an active fluid


Systems composed of strongly interacting self-propelled particles can form a spontaneously flowing polar active fluid. The study of the connection between the microscopic dynamics of a single such particle and the macroscopic dynamics of the fluid can yield insights into experimentally realizable active flows, but this connection is well understood in only a few select cases. We introduce a model of self-propelled particles based on an analogy with the motion of electrons that have strong spin-orbit coupling. We find that, within our model, self-propelled particles are subject to an analog of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that relates translational and rotational noise. Furthermore, by coarse-graining this microscopic model, we establish expressions for the coefficients of the Toner-Tu equations - the hydrodynamic equations that describe an active fluid composed of these ‘active spins.’ The connection between stochastic self-propelled particles and quantum particles with spin may help realize exotic phases of matter using active fluids via analogies with systems composed of strongly correlated electrons.

New Journal of Physics