Bacteria driving droplets†
We confine a dense suspension of motile Escherichia coli inside a spherical droplet in a water-in-oil emulsion, creating a “bacterially” propelled droplet. We show that droplets move in a persistent random walk, with a persistence time τ ∼ 0.3 s, a long-time diffusion coefficient D ∼ 0.5 μm2 s−1, and an average instantaneous speed V ∼ 1.5 μm s−1 when the bacterial suspension is at the maximum studied concentration. Several droplets are analyzed, varying the drop radius and bacterial concentration. We show that the persistence time, diffusion coefficient and average speed increase with the bacterial concentration inside the drop, but are largely independent of the droplet size. By measuring the turbulent-like motion of the bacteria inside the drop, we demonstrate that the mean velocity of the bacteria near the bottom of the drop, which is separated from a glass substrate by a thin lubrication oil film, is antiparallel to the instantaneous velocity of the drop. This suggests that the driving mechanism is a slippery rolling of the drop over the substrate, caused by the collective motion of the bacteria. Our results show that microscopic organisms can transfer useful mechanical energy to their confining environment, opening the way to the assembly of mesoscopic motors composed of microswimmers.