The swimming of a deforming helix

Lyndon Koens, Hang Zhang, Martin Moeller, Ahmed Mourran, Eric Lauga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Many microorganisms and artificial microswimmers use helical appendages in order to generate locomotion. Though often rotated so as to produce thrust, some species of bacteria such Spiroplasma, Rhodobacter sphaeroides and Spirochetes induce movement by deforming a helical-shaped body. Recently, artificial devices have been created which also generate motion by deforming their helical body in a non-reciprocal way (A. Mourran et al. Adv. Mater. 29, 1604825, 2017). Inspired by these systems, we investigate the transport of a deforming helix within a viscous fluid. Specifically, we consider a swimmer that maintains a helical centreline and a single handedness while changing its helix radius, pitch and wavelength uniformly across the body. We first discuss how a deforming helix can create a non-reciprocal translational and rotational swimming stroke and identify its principle direction of motion. We then determine the leading-order physics for helices with small helix radius before considering the general behaviour for different configuration parameters and how these swimmers can be optimised. Finally, we explore how the presence of walls, gravity, and defects in the centreline allow the helical device to break symmetries, increase its speed, and generate transport in directions not available to helices in bulk fluids.
Original languageEnglish
Article number119
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Physical Journal E
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Topical issue: Flowing Matter, Problems and Applications


Dive into the research topics of 'The swimming of a deforming helix'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this