Catapulting of topological defects through elasticity bands in active nematics†
Active materials are those in which individual, uncoordinated local stresses drive the material out of equilibrium on a global scale. Examples of such assemblies can be seen across scales from schools of fish to the cellular cytoskeleton and underpin many important biological processes. Synthetic experiments that recapitulate the essential features of such active systems have been the object of study for decades as their simple rules allow us to elucidate the physical underpinnings of collective motion. One system of particular interest has been active nematic liquid crystals (LCs). Because of their well understood passive physics, LCs provide a rich platform to interrogate the effects of active stress. The flows and steady state structures that emerge in an active LCs have been understood to result from a competition between nematic elasticity and the local activity. However most investigations of such phenomena consider only the magnitude of the elastic resistance and not its peculiarities. Here we investigate a nematic liquid crystal and selectively change the ratio of the material's splay and bend elasticities. We show that increases in the nematic's bend elasticity specifically drives the material into an exotic steady state where elongated regions of acute bend distortion or “elasticity bands” dominate the structure and dynamics. We show that these bands strongly influence defect dynamics, including the rapid motion or “catapulting” along the disintegration of one of these bands thus converting bend distortion into defect transport. Thus, we report a novel dynamical state resultant from the competition between nematic elasticity and active stress.