Active matter in space published in npj Microgravity

Effect of gravity on matter: Sedimentation and creaming. Fv and Fg represent the viscous force and gravitational force, respectively. (Image by Authors.)
Active matter in space
Giorgio Volpe, Clemens Bechinger, Frank Cichos, Ramin Golestanian, Hartmut Löwen, Matthias Sperl and Giovanni Volpe
npj Microgravity, 8, 54 (2022)
doi: 10.1038/s41526-022-00230-7

In the last 20 years, active matter has been a highly dynamic field of research, bridging fundamental aspects of non-equilibrium thermodynamics with applications to biology, robotics, and nano-medicine. Active matter systems are composed of units that can harvest and harness energy and information from their environment to generate complex collective behaviours and forms of self-organisation. On Earth, gravity-driven phenomena (such as sedimentation and convection) often dominate or conceal the emergence of these dynamics, especially for soft active matter systems where typical interactions are of the order of the thermal energy. In this review, we explore the ongoing and future efforts to study active matter in space, where low-gravity and microgravity conditions can lift some of these limitations. We envision that these studies will help unify our understanding of active matter systems and, more generally, of far-from-equilibrium physics both on Earth and in space. Furthermore, they will also provide guidance on how to use, process and manufacture active materials for space exploration and colonisation.

Laura Natali participated in the Ämnets dag at the University of Gothenburg

Exemplary simulations of Active Brownian Particles proposed during the Ämnets Dag. (Figure by L. Natali.)
On Tuesday 1 November 2022 the event called “Ämnets dag” took place at the university of Gothenburg.

The event is aimed to physics and science teachers at different school levels working in the Gothenburg area. Laura Natali joined the initiative and organised one of the workshops available. The activity prepared was an introductory class to simulations modelling active matter.

The workshop addressed the basic aspects of active matter and some examples of its relevant applications nowadays. The focus was on a hands-on workshop, to try out simulations and give a qualitative idea of active behaviour and the effect of different parameters on it. Next to the simulated active particles, it was also possible to play with Hexbugs a simple robotic example of active matter.

Stay tuned for more activities like this!

Recent eLife article on plankton tracking gets featured on Swedish national radio

Planktons imaged under a holographic microscope. (Illustration by J. Heuschele.)
The article Microplankton life histories revealed by holographic microscopy and deep learning gets featured on Vetenskapradion Nyheter (Science radio) operated by Sveriges Radio (Swedish national radio) on November 7, 2022.

The short audio feature (Hologram hjälper forskare att förstå plankton) which highlights the important results of the paper (in Swedish) is now available for public listening.

Vetenskapradion Nyheter airs daily news, reports and in-depth discussions about latest research.

Press release on Tunable critical Casimir forces counteract Casimir-Lifshitz attraction

An illustration of microscopic gold flakes on surface. (Image by F. Schmidt.)
The article Tunable critical Casimir forces counteract Casimir-Lifshitz attraction has been featured in the News of the University of Gothenburg (in English and in Swedish), SISSA-International School of Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, and Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena.

The study, published in Nature Physics and co-written by researchers at the Soft Matter Lab of the Department of Physics at the University of Gothenburg, demonstrate that tunable repulsive critical Casimir forces can be used to counteract stiction, i.e., the tendency of tiny parts of micro- and nanoelectromechanical devices to stick together, which is caused by the Casimir-Lifshitz interaction.

The study is featured also in, NanoWerk.

Here the links to the press releases:
Casimir vs Casimir – using opposing forces to improve nanotechnology (GU, English) (GU, Swedish)
Casimir vs Casimir – usare forze opposte per migliorare le nanotecnologie (SISSA, Italian)
Casimir vs Casimir – using opposing forces to improve nanotechnology (SISSA, English)
Nano-Bauteile clever voneinander lösen (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Clever method for separating nano-components (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)
Clever method for separating nano-components (
Clever method for separating nano-components (NanoWerk)

Tunable critical Casimir forces counteract Casimir-Lifshitz attraction published in Nature Physics

Gold flake suspended over a functionalized gold-coated substrate. (Image by F. Schmidt.)
Tunable critical Casimir forces counteract Casimir-Lifshitz attraction
Falko Schmidt, Agnese Callegari, Abdallah Daddi-Moussa-Ider, Battulga Munkhbat, Ruggero Verre, Timur Shegai, Mikael Käll, Hartmut Löwen, Andrea Gambassi and Giovanni Volpe
Nature Physics (2022)
arXiv: 2202.10926
doi: 10.1038/s41567-022-01795-6

Casimir forces in quantum electrodynamics emerge between microscopic metallic objects because of the confinement of the vacuum electromagnetic fluctuations occurring even at zero temperature. Their generalization at finite temperature and in material media are referred to as Casimir-Lifshitz forces. These forces are typically attractive, leading to the widespread problem of stiction between the metallic parts of micro- and nanodevices. Recently, repulsive Casimir forces have been experimentally realized but their reliance on specialized materials prevents their dynamic control and thus limits their further applicability. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that repulsive critical Casimir forces, which emerge in a critical binary liquid mixture upon approaching the critical temperature, can be used to actively control microscopic and nanoscopic objects with nanometer precision. We demonstrate this by using critical Casimir forces to prevent the stiction caused by the Casimir-Lifshitz forces. We study a microscopic gold flake above a flat gold-coated substrate immersed in a critical mixture. Far from the critical temperature, stiction occurs because of dominant Casimir-Lifshitz forces. Upon approaching the critical temperature, however, we observe the emergence of repulsive critical Casimir forces that are sufficiently strong to counteract stiction. This experimental demonstration can accelerate the development of micro- and nanodevices by preventing stiction as well as providing active control and precise tunability of the forces acting between their constituent parts.

Press release on Microplankton life histories revealed by holographic microscopy and deep learning

Planktons imaged under a holographic microscope. (Illustration by J. Heuschele.)
The article Microplankton life histories revealed by holographic microscopy and deep learning has been featured in the news of University of Gothenburg (in English & Swedish) and in the press release of eLife (in English).

The study, now published in eLife, and co-written by researchers at the Soft Matter Lab of the Department of Physics at the University of Gothenburg, demonstrates how the combination of holographic microscopy and deep learning provides a strong complimentary tool in marine microbial ecology. The research allows quantitative assessments of microplankton feeding behaviours, and biomass increase throughout the cell cycle from generation to generation.

The study is featured also in eLife digest.

Here are the links to the press releases:
Researchers combine microscopy with AI to characterise marine microbial food web (eLife, English)
Holographic microscopy provides insights into the life of microplankton (GU, English)
Hologram ger insyn i planktonens liv (GU, Swedish)
The secret lives of microbes (eLife digest)

Seminar by G. Volpe at QSIT, ETH Zurich, 3 November 2022

Active droploids. (Image taken from Nat. Commun. 12, 6005 (2021).)
Experimental study of critical fluctuations and critical Casimir forces
Giovanni Volpe
Invited seminar at QSIT/Quantum Center, ETH Zurich
Thursday, November 3, 2022 – 16:00 – 17:00

Critical Casimir forces (CCF) are a powerful tool to control the self-​assembly and complex behavior of microscopic and nanoscopic colloids. While CCF were theoretically predicted in 1978, their first direct experimental evidence was provided only in 2008, using total internal reflection microscopy (TIRM). Since then, these forces have been investigated under various conditions, for example, by varying the properties of the involved surfaces or with moving boundaries. In addition, a number of studies of the phase behavior of colloidal dispersions in a critical mixture indicate critical Casimir forces as candidates for tuning the self-​assembly of nanostructures and quantum dots, while analogous fluctuation-​induced effects have been investigated, for example, at the percolation transition of a chemical sol, in the presence of temperature gradients, and even in granular fluids and active matter. In this presentation, I’ll give an overview of this field with a focus on recent results on the measurement of many-​body forces in critical Casimir forces, the realization of micro-​ and nanoscopic engines powered by critical fluctuations, and the creation of light-​controllable colloidal molecules and active droploids.

Date: Thursday, November 3, 2022
Time: 16:00
Place: ETH Zurich, Campus Hönggerberg, HPF G 6
Host: Lukas Novotny

Microplankton life histories revealed by holographic microscopy and deep learning published in eLife

Tracking of microplankton by holographic optical microscopy and deep learning. (Image by H. Bachimanchi.)
Microplankton life histories revealed by holographic microscopy and deep learning
Harshith Bachimanchi, Benjamin Midtvedt, Daniel Midtvedt, Erik Selander, and Giovanni Volpe
eLife 11, e79760 (2022)
arXiv: 2202.09046
doi: 10.7554/eLife.79760

The marine microbial food web plays a central role in the global carbon cycle. Our mechanistic understanding of the ocean, however, is biased towards its larger constituents, while rates and biomass fluxes in the microbial food web are mainly inferred from indirect measurements and ensemble averages. Yet, resolution at the level of the individual microplankton is required to advance our understanding of the oceanic food web. Here, we demonstrate that, by combining holographic microscopy with deep learning, we can follow microplanktons throughout their lifespan, continuously measuring their three dimensional position and dry mass. The deep learning algorithms circumvent the computationally intensive processing of holographic data and allow rapid measurements over extended time periods. This permits us to reliably estimate growth rates, both in terms of dry mass increase and cell divisions, as well as to measure trophic interactions between species such as predation events. The individual resolution provides information about selectivity, individual feeding rates and handling times for individual microplanktons. This method is particularly useful to explore the flux of carbon through micro-zooplankton, the most important and least known group of primary consumers in the global oceans. We exemplify this by detailed descriptions of micro-zooplankton feeding events, cell divisions, and long term monitoring of single cells from division to division.

Corneal endothelium assessment in specular microscopy images with Fuchs’ dystrophy via deep regression of signed distance maps on ArXiv

Example of final segmentation with the UNet-dm of the specular microscopy image of a severe case of cornea guttata. (Image by the Authors of the manuscript.)
Corneal endothelium assessment in specular microscopy images with Fuchs’ dystrophy via deep regression of signed distance maps
Juan S. Sierra, Jesus Pineda, Daniela Rueda, Alejandro Tello, Angelica M. Prada, Virgilio Galvis, Giovanni Volpe, Maria S. Millan, Lenny A. Romero, Andres G. Marrugo
arXiv: 2210.07102

Specular microscopy assessment of the human corneal endothelium (CE) in Fuchs’ dystrophy is challenging due to the presence of dark image regions called guttae. This paper proposes a UNet-based segmentation approach that requires minimal post-processing and achieves reliable CE morphometric assessment and guttae identification across all degrees of Fuchs’ dystrophy. We cast the segmentation problem as a regression task of the cell and gutta signed distance maps instead of a pixel-level classification task as typically done with UNets. Compared to the conventional UNet classification approach, the distance-map regression approach converges faster in clinically relevant parameters. It also produces morphometric parameters that agree with the manually-segmented ground-truth data, namely the average cell density difference of -41.9 cells/mm2 (95% confidence interval (CI) [-306.2, 222.5]) and the average difference of mean cell area of 14.8 um2 (95% CI [-41.9, 71.5]). These results suggest a promising alternative for CE assessment.

Sex differences in multilayer functional network topology over the course of aging in 37543 UK Biobank participants accepted on Network Neuroscience

Example of the 21 resting-state networks used as nodes and their positive (red) and negative connections (blue) for one of 140 the subjects included in the analyses. (Image by the Authors of the manuscript.)
Sex differences in multilayer functional network topology over the course of aging in 37543 UK Biobank participants
Mite Mijalkov, Dániel Veréb, Oveis Jamialahmadi, Anna Canal-Garcia, Emiliano Gómez-Ruiz, Didac Vidal-Piñeiro, Stefano Romeo, Giovanni Volpe, Joana B. Pereira
Network Neuroscience 1-40 (2022)
doi: 10.1162/netn_a_00286
medRxiv: 10.1101/2022.03.08.22272089

Aging is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders, with considerable societal and economic implications. Healthy aging is accompanied by changes in functional connectivity between and within resting-state functional networks, which have been associated with cognitive decline. However, there is no consensus on the impact of sex on these age-related functional trajectories. Here, we show that multilayer measures provide crucial information on the interaction between sex and age on network topology, allowing for better assessment of cognitive, structural, and cardiovascular risk factors that have been shown to differ between men and women, as well as providing additional insights into the genetic influences on changes in functional connectivity that occur during aging. In a large cross-sectional sample of 37543 individuals from the UK Biobank cohort, we demonstrate that such multilayer measures that capture the relationship between positive and negative connections are more sensitive to sex-related changes in the whole-brain connectivity patterns and their topological architecture throughout aging, when compared to standard connectivity and topological measures. Our findings indicate that multilayer measures contain previously unknown information on the relationship between sex and age, which opens up new avenues for research into functional brain connectivity in aging.