Directed migration of microscale swimmers by an array of shaped obstacles: Modeling and shape optimization

Jiajun Tong, Michael J. Shelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Achieving macroscopic directed migration of microscale swimmers in a fluid is an important step towards utilizing their autonomous motion. It has been experimentally shown that directed motion can be induced, without any external fields, by certain geometrically asymmetric obstacles due to interaction between their boundaries and the swimmers. In this paper, we propose a kinetic-type model to study swimming and directional migration of microscale bimetallic rods in a periodic array of posts with noncircular cross-sections. Both rod position and orientation are taken into account; rod trapping and release on the post boundaries are modeled by empirically characterizing curvature and orientational dependence of the boundary absorption and desorption. Intensity of the directed rod migration, which we call the normalized net flux, is then defined and computed given the geometry of the post array. We numerically study the effect of post spacings on the flux; we also apply shape optimization to find better post shapes that can induce stronger flux. Inspired by preliminary numerical results on two candidate posts, we perform an approximate analysis on a simplified model to show the key geometric features that a good post should have. Based on this, three new candidate shapes are proposed which give rise to large fluxes. This approach provides an effective tool and guidance for experimentally designing new devices that induce strong directed migration of microscale swimmers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2370-2392
Number of pages23
JournalSIAM Journal on Applied Mathematics
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2018


  • Boundary absorption and desorption
  • Directed migration
  • Gauss-Bonnet theorem
  • Microscale swimmer
  • Shape optimization
  • Shaped obstacle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Mathematics


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