New Horizons in condensed matter physics

Professor Alexander Morozov’s New Horizons funding will examine phenomena in the microbial world to enrich our understanding of non-equilibrium physics.

New Horizons is a ground-breaking new programme designed to support adventurous, high-risk research in mathematical sciences and physical sciences, with grants of up to £200,000 covering a maximum of two years’ work.

Lattice Models of Bacterial Turbulence

Professor Alexander Morozov has received such funds to study bacterial turbulence to better understand non-equilibrium physics.  

Studies of the behaviour of fish, flocks or birds or insects has transformed our understanding of animal behaviour, biology of groups of organisms, and social interactions. Surprisingly, such phenomena have had a strong impact on statistical and soft matter physics by stimulating the development of what is now called the field of active matter. In the attempt to distil what aspects of such collective behaviour can be attributed to physical interactions, a new direction in non-equilibrium physics emerged that seeks to understand the unique states of matter formed by particles that extract energy from their environment and transform it into self-propulsion.

Professor Morozov’s project will focus on dilute solutions of swimming bacteria - an archetypal model for swimming microorganisms. Such solutions often exhibit a unique dynamical state, known as "bacterial turbulence".

Professor Morozov said:

At very low densities, bacterial suspensions appear featureless and disordered, while at higher, yet still sufficiently low densities, collective motion sets in on the scale of the system. We propose a high-risk, high-gain research programme that will establish a novel class of lattice models describing collective motion in microscopic self-propelled particles suspended in a fluid. Similar in spirit to other non-equilibrium lattice models, our model is simple enough to allow for detailed studies into the exact nature of collective motion.

If successful, the model will gain the status similar to, say, the Ising model in condensed matter physics, and will establish itself as a new archetypal class of active matter systems, ultimately enriching the understanding of non-equilibrium physics and fascinating collective phenomena in nature.

New Horizons

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has allocated almost £25.5 million of funding to 126 adventurous projects in the mathematical and physical sciences through this pilot programme.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: 

It is critical we give the UK’s best researchers the resources to drive forward their revolutionary ideas so they can focus on identifying solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as climate change. This government funding will allow some of our brightest mathematicians and physicists to channel all their creative ingenuity into achieving potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs – from mathematics informing how we save our rainforests to robotics that will help track cancer faster.