Josh Shaevitz, Princeton University
Self-driven phase transitions in populations of Myxococcus xanthus
The soil dwelling bacterium Myxococcus xanthus is an amazing organism that uses collective motility to hunt in giant packs when near prey and to form beautiful and protective macroscopic structures comprising millions of cells when food is scarce. I will present an overview of how these cells move and how they regulate that motion to produce different phases of collective behavior. Inspired by recent work on the thermodynamics of active matter, I will discuss experiments that reveal how these cells generate nematic order and how they actively tune the Péclet number of the population, a quantity that plays the role of temperature in generating fluctuations, to drive a phase transition from a gas-like flocking state to an aggregated liquid state during starvation.