Purely Elastic Fluid–Structure Interactions in Microfluidics: Implications for Mucociliary Flows

Cameron C. Hopkins, Simon J. Haward, Amy Q. Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Fluid–structure interactions lie at the heart of the complex, and often highly coordinated, motions of actively driven microscale biological systems (e.g., translating cilia, flagella, and motile cells). Due to the highly viscoelastic nature of most relevant biological fluids and the small length scales involved, the viscous and inertial forces in such flows are dominated by elasticity. However, elastic effects are often overlooked in studies seeking to address phenomena like the synchronization of beating cilia. In this study, unique microfluidic experiments are presented to demonstrate that inertia-free viscoelastic flows can lead to highly regular beating of an immersed (passive) flexible structure, herein named “purely-elastic” fluid–structure interaction. It is also shown how two such flexible structures can achieve an extraordinary degree of synchronization, with a correlation coefficient approaching unity. The synchronization is a result of the generation of localized elastic stresses in the fluid that effectively link the two objects. These purely elastic interactions may be important to consider toward developing a complete understanding of the motions of microscale biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1903872
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • fluid–structure interactions
  • microfluidics
  • non-Newtonian fluid dynamics
  • viscoelasticity
  • wormlike micelles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)


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