Critical Casimir forces in soft matter

We review recent advances in the theoretical, numerical, and experimental studies of critical Casimir forces in soft matter, with particular emphasis on their relevance for the structures of colloidal suspensions and on their dynamics. Distinct from other interactions which act in soft matter, such as electrostatic and van der Waals forces, critical Casimir forces are effective interactions characterised by the possibility to control reversibly their strength via minute temperature changes, while their attractive or repulsive character is conveniently determined via surface treatments or by structuring the involved surfaces. These features make critical Casimir forces excellent candidates for controlling the equilibrium and dynamical properties of individual colloids or colloidal dispersions as well as for possible applications in micro-mechanical systems. In the past 25 years a number of theoretical and experimental studies have been devoted to investigating these forces primarily under thermal equilibrium conditions, while their dynamical and non-equilibrium behaviour is a largely unexplored subject open for future investigations.

Stochastic thermodynamics of a probe in a fluctuating correlated field

Venturelli D., Loos S.A.M., Walter B., Roldán É., We develop a framework for the stochastic thermodynamics of a probe coupled to a fluctuating medium with spatio-temporal correlations, described by a scalar field. For a Brownian particle dragged by a harmonic trap through a fluctuating Gaussian field, we show that near criticality (where the field displays long-range spatial correlations) the spatially-resolved average heat flux develops a dipolar structure, where heat is absorbed in front and dissipated behind the dragged particle. Moreover, a perturbative calculation reveals that the dissipated power displays three distinct dynamical regimes depending on the drag velocity.

Large Deviations beyond the Kibble-Zurek Mechanism

Balducci F., Beau M., Yang J., The Kibble-Zurek mechanism (KZM) predicts that the average number of topological defects generated upon crossing a continuous or quantum phase transition obeys a universal scaling law with the quench time. Fluctuations in the defect number near equilibrium are approximately of Gaussian form, in agreement with the central limit theorem. Using large deviations theory, we characterize the universality of fluctuations beyond the KZM and report the exact form of the rate function in the transverse-field quantum Ising model. In addition, we characterize the scaling of large deviations in an arbitrary continuous phase transition, building on recent evidence establishing the universality of the defect number distribution.

Non-Gaussian fluctuations of a probe coupled to a Gaussian field

Démery V., The motion of a colloidal probe in a complex fluid, such as a micellar solution, is usually described by the generalized Langevin equation, which is linear. However, recent numerical simulations and experiments have shown that this linear model fails when the probe is confined and that the intrinsic dynamics of the probe is actually nonlinear. Noting that the kurtosis of the displacement of the probe may reveal the nonlinearity of its dynamics also in the absence confinement, we compute it for a probe coupled to a Gaussian field and possibly trapped by a harmonic potential. We show that the excess kurtosis increases from zero at short times, reaches a maximum, and then decays algebraically at long times, with an exponent which depends on the spatial dimensionality and on the features and correlations of the dynamics of the field. Our analytical predictions are confirmed by numerical simulations of the stochastic dynamics of the probe and the field where the latter is represented by a finite number of modes.

Memory-induced oscillations of a driven particle in a dissipative correlated medium

Venturelli D., The overdamped dynamics of a particle is in general affected by its interaction with the surrounding medium, especially out of equilibrium, and when the latter develops spatial and temporal correlations. Here we consider the case in which the medium is modeled by a scalar Gaussian field with relaxational dynamics, and the particle is dragged at constant velocity through the medium by a moving harmonic trap. This mimics the setting of an active microrheology experiment conducted in a near-critical medium. When the particle is displaced from its average position in the nonequilibrium steady state, its subsequent relaxation is shown to feature damped oscillations. This is similar to what has been recently predicted and observed in viscoelastic fluids, but differs from what happens in the absence of driving or for an overdamped Markovian dynamics, in which cases oscillations cannot occur. We characterize these oscillating modes in terms of the parameters of the underlying mesoscopic model for the particle and the medium, confirming our analytical predictions via numerical simulations.

A hydrodynamic approach to Stark localization

Capizzi L., Vanoni C., Calabrese P., When a free Fermi gas on a lattice is subject to the action of a linear potential it does not drift away, as one would naively expect, but it remains spatially localized. Here we revisit this phenomenon, known as Stark localization, within the recently proposed framework of generalized hydrodynamics. In particular, we consider the dynamics of an initial state in the form of a domain wall and we recover known results for the particle density and the particle current, while we derive analytical predictions for relevant observables such as the entanglement entropy and the full counting statistics. Then, we extend the analysis to generic potentials, highlighting the relationship between the occurrence of localization and the presence of peculiar closed orbits in phase space, arising from the lattice dispersion relation. We also compare our analytical predictions with numerical calculations and with the available results, finding perfect agreement. This approach paves the way for an exact treatment of the interacting case known as Stark many-body localization.

Taxis of cargo-carrying microswimmers in traveling activity waves(a)

Muzzeddu P.L., Roldán É., Many fascinating properties of biological active matter crucially depend on the capacity of constituting entities to perform directed motion, e.g., molecular motors transporting vesicles inside cells or bacteria searching for food. While much effort has been devoted to mimicking biological functions in synthetic systems, such as transporting a cargo to a targeted zone, theoretical studies have primarily focused on single active particles subject to various spatial and temporal stimuli. Here we study the behavior of a self-propelled particle carrying a passive cargo in a travelling activity wave and show that this active-passive dimer displays a rich, emergent tactic behavior. For cargoes with low mobility, the dimer always drifts in the direction of the wave propagation. For highly mobile cargoes, instead, the dimer can also drift against the traveling wave. The transition between these two tactic behaviors is controlled by the ratio between the frictions of the cargo and the microswimmer. In slow activity waves the dimer can perform an active surfing of the wave maxima, with an average drift velocity equal to the wave speed. These analytical predictions, which we confirm by numerical simulations, might be useful for the future efficient design of bio-hybrid microswimmers.

Stochastic representation of the quantum quartic oscillator

Tucci G., De Nicola S., Wald S., Recent experimental advances have inspired the development of theoretical tools to describe the non-equilibrium dynamics of quantum systems. Among them an exact representation of quantum spin systems in terms of classical stochastic processes has been proposed. Here we provide first steps towards the extension of this stochastic approach to bosonic systems by considering the one-dimensional quantum quartic oscillator. We show how to exactly parameterize the time evolution of this prototypical model via the dynamics of a set of classical variables. We interpret these variables as stochastic processes, which allows us to propose a novel way to numerically simulate the time evolution of the system. We benchmark our findings by considering analytically solvable limits and providing alternative derivations of known results.

Tunable critical Casimir forces counteract Casimir–Lifshitz attraction

Schmidt F., Callegari A., Daddi-Moussa-Ider A., Munkhbat B., Verre R., Shegai T., Käll M., Löwen H., In developing micro- and nanodevices, stiction between their parts, that is, static friction preventing surfaces in contact from moving, is a well-known problem. It is caused by the finite-temperature analogue of the quantum electrodynamical Casimir–Lifshitz forces, which are normally attractive. Repulsive Casimir–Lifshitz forces have been realized experimentally, but their reliance on specialized materials severely limits their applicability and prevents their dynamic control. Here we demonstrate that repulsive critical Casimir forces, which emerge in a critical binary liquid mixture upon approaching the critical temperature, can be used to counteract stiction due to Casimir–Lifshitz forces and actively control microscopic and nanoscopic objects with nanometre precision. Our experiment is conducted on a microscopic gold flake suspended above a flat gold-coated substrate immersed in a critical binary liquid mixture. This may stimulate the development of micro- and nanodevices by preventing stiction as well as by providing active control and precise tunability of the forces acting between their constituent parts.

Fundamental Problems in Statistical Physics XV—Preface

Rosso A., Speck T., Optical Trapping and Critical Casimir Forces

Callegari A., Magazzù A., Critical Casimir forces between colloidal particles act at distances reaching often hundreds of nanometers. Keeping colloids at such distances is a major experimental challenge. Here, we review how optical tweezers help quantitatively in studying critical Casimir forces acting on particles in suspensions.

Optical Trapping and Critical Casimir Forces

Callegari A., Magazzù A., Critical Casimir forces emerge between objects, such as colloidal particles, whenever their surfaces spatially confine the fluctuations of the order parameter of a critical liquid used as a solvent. These forces act at short but microscopically large distances between these objects, often reaching hundreds of nanometers. Keeping colloids at such distances is a major experimental challenge, which can be addressed by the means of optical tweezers. Here, we review how optical tweezers have been successfully used to quantitatively study critical Casimir forces acting on particles in suspensions. As we will see, the use of optical tweezers to experimentally study critical Casimir forces can play a crucial role in developing nanotechnologies, representing an innovative way to realize self-assembled devices at the nano- and microscale.

Interface dynamics in the two-dimensional quantum Ising model

Balducci F., In a recent paper [Phys. Rev. Lett. 129, 120601 (2022)0031-900710.1103/PhysRevLett.129.120601], we have shown that the dynamics of interfaces, in the symmetry-broken phase of the two-dimensional ferromagnetic quantum Ising model, displays a robust form of ergodicity breaking. In this paper, we elaborate more on the issue. First, we discuss two classes of initial states on the square lattice, the dynamics of which is driven by complementary terms in the effective Hamiltonian and may be solved exactly: (a) Strips of consecutive neighboring spins aligned in the opposite direction of the surrounding spins and (b) a large class of initial states, characterized by the presence of a well-defined "smooth"interface separating two infinitely extended regions with oppositely aligned spins. The evolution of the latter states can be mapped onto that of an effective one-dimensional fermionic chain, which is integrable in the infinite-coupling limit. In this case, deep connections with noteworthy results in mathematics emerge, as well as with similar problems in classical statistical physics. We present a detailed analysis of the evolution of these interfaces both on the lattice and in a suitable continuum limit, including the interface fluctuations and the dynamics of entanglement entropy. Second, we provide analytical and numerical evidence supporting the conclusion that the observed nonergodicity - arising from Stark localization of the effective fermionic excitations - persists away from the infinite-Ising-coupling limit, and we highlight the presence of a timescale T∼ecLlnL for the decay of a region of large linear size L. The implications of our work for the classic problem of the decay of a false vacuum are also discussed.

First-passage time of run-and-tumble particles with noninstantaneous resetting

Tucci G., We study the statistics of the first-passage time of a single run-and-tumble particle (RTP) in one spatial dimension, with or without resetting, to a fixed target located at L>0. First, we compute the first-passage time distribution of a free RTP, without resetting or in a confining potential, but averaged over the initial position drawn from an arbitrary distribution p(x). Recent experiments used a noninstantaneous resetting protocol that motivated us to study in particular the case where p(x) corresponds to the stationary non-Boltzmann distribution of an RTP in the presence of a harmonic trap. This distribution p(x) is characterized by a parameter ν>0, which depends on the microscopic parameters of the RTP dynamics. We show that the first-passage time distribution of the free RTP, drawn from this initial distribution, develops interesting singular behaviors, depending on the value of ν. We then switch on resetting, mimicked by relaxation of the RTP in the presence of a harmonic trap. Resetting leads to a finite mean first-passage time and we study this as a function of the resetting rate for different values of the parameters ν and b=L/c, where c is the position of the right edge of the initial distribution p(x). In the diffusive limit of the RTP dynamics, we find a rich phase diagram in the (b,ν) plane, with an interesting reentrance phase transition. Away from the diffusive limit, qualitatively similar rich behaviors emerge for the full RTP dynamics.

Dynamics of a colloidal particle coupled to a Gaussian field: From a confinement-dependent to a non-linear memory

Basu U., Démery V., The effective dynamics of a colloidal particle immersed in a complex medium is often described in terms of an overdamped linear Langevin equation for its velocity with a memory kernel which determines the effective (time-dependent) friction and the correlations of fluctuations. Recently, it has been shown in experiments and numerical simulations that this memory may depend on the possible optical confinement the particle is subject to, suggesting that this description does not capture faithfully the actual dynamics of the colloid, even at equilibrium. Here, we propose a different approach in which we model the medium as a Gaussian field linearly coupled to the colloid. The resulting effective evolution equation of the colloidal particle features a non-linear memory term which extends previous models and which explains qualitatively the experimental and numerical evidence in the presence of confinement. This non-linear term is related to the correlations of the effective noise via a novel fluctuation-dissipation relation which we derive.

Inducing oscillations of trapped particles in a near-critical Gaussian field

Venturelli D., We study the nonequilibrium dynamics of two particles confined in two spatially separated harmonic potentials and linearly coupled to the same thermally fluctuating scalar field, a cartoon for optically trapped colloids in contact with a medium close to a continuous phase transition. When an external periodic driving is applied to one of these particles, a nonequilibrium periodic state is eventually reached in which their motion synchronizes thanks to the field-mediated effective interaction, a phenomenon already observed in experiments. We fully characterize the nonlinear response of the second particle as a function of the driving frequency, in particular far from the adiabatic regime in which the field can be assumed to relax instantaneously. We compare the perturbative, analytic solution to its adiabatic approximation, thus determining the limits of validity of the latter, and we qualitatively test our predictions against numerical simulations.

Localization and Melting of Interfaces in the Two-Dimensional Quantum Ising Model

Balducci F., We study the nonequilibrium evolution of coexisting ferromagnetic domains in the two-dimensional quantum Ising model - a setup relevant in several contexts, from quantum nucleation dynamics and false-vacuum decay scenarios to recent experiments with Rydberg-atom arrays. We demonstrate that the quantum-fluctuating interface delimiting a large bubble can be studied as an effective one-dimensional system through a "holographic"mapping. For the considered model, the emergent interface excitations map to an integrable chain of fermionic particles. We discuss how this integrability is broken by geometric features of the bubbles and by corrections in inverse powers of the ferromagnetic coupling, and provide a lower bound to the timescale after which the bubble is ultimately expected to melt. Remarkably, we demonstrate that a symmetry-breaking longitudinal field gives rise to a robust ergodicity breaking in two dimensions, a phenomenon underpinned by Stark many-body localization of the emergent fermionic excitations of the interface.

Modeling Active Non-Markovian Oscillations

Tucci G., Roldán E., Modeling noisy oscillations of active systems is one of the current challenges in physics and biology. Because the physical mechanisms of such processes are often difficult to identify, we propose a linear stochastic model driven by a non-Markovian bistable noise that is capable of generating self-sustained periodic oscillation. We derive analytical predictions for most relevant dynamical and thermodynamic properties of the model. This minimal model turns out to describe accurately bistablelike oscillatory motion of hair bundles in bullfrog sacculus, extracted from experimental data. Based on and in agreement with these data, we estimate the power required to sustain such active oscillations to be of the order of 100 kBT per oscillation cycle.

Universal amplitudes ratios for critical aging via functional renormalization group

Vodret M., Chiocchetta A., We discuss how to calculate non-equilibrium universal amplitude ratios in the functional renormalization group approach, extending its applicability. In particular, we focus on the critical relaxation of the Ising model with non-conserved dynamics (model A) and calculate the universal amplitude ratio associated with the fluctuation-dissipation ratio of the order parameter, considering a critical quench from a high-temperature initial condition. Our predictions turn out to be in good agreement with previous perturbative renormalization-group calculations and Monte Carlo simulations.

Nonequilibrium relaxation of a trapped particle in a near-critical Gaussian field

Venturelli D., Ferraro F., We study the nonequilibrium relaxational dynamics of a probe particle linearly coupled to a thermally fluctuating scalar field and subject to a harmonic potential, which provides a cartoon for an optically trapped colloid immersed in a fluid close to its bulk critical point. The average position of the particle initially displaced from the position of mechanical equilibrium is shown to feature long-time algebraic tails as the critical point of the field is approached, the universal exponents of which are determined in arbitrary spatial dimensions. As expected, this behavior cannot be captured by adiabatic approaches which assumes fast field relaxation. The predictions of the analytic, perturbative approach are qualitatively confirmed by numerical simulations.