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Superdiffusion in optically controlled active media



Active media are complex systems driven by both thermal fluctuations and additional energy sources1,2 and are encountered in a variety of phenomena including mobile bacteria3,4, protein diffusion5 or turbulent flows6,7. However, studying the non-equilibrium dynamics of active media is often difficult because of their size and complexity8. Here, we demonstrate that an active medium can be realized and controlled optically through dynamic coupling between multiply scattered light and colloidal particles. As a result of a strong light–matter interaction, the particles undergo diffusion upon a spatiotemporal random potential that leads to an apparent superdiffusion over timescales controlled by, among other things, both the input power and particle size. This model could serve as a convenient tool for exploring the intricacies of non-equilibrium thermodynamics of soft matter while also offering new possibilities for the coherent control of strongly coupled, complex systems9.

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Figure 1: An optically controlled active medium consisting of dielectric spheres strongly coupled to a volume speckle field.
Figure 2: The PSD of the intensity fluctuations contains information about the motions of the particles.
Figure 3: Simulations of particles in a dynamic volume speckle field reveal superdiffusive behaviour.


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The authors thank the Stokes Advanced Research Computing Center at the University of Central Florida for access to the high-performance computing cluster. This work was partially supported by the AFOSR and NSF.

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Authors and Affiliations



K.M.D. performed the experiments and numerical simulations. S.S. performed the thermal analysis in the Supplementary Information, as well as the analytical modelling. S.S. assisted with numerical simulations. A.D. conceived the work. All three authors contributed equally to the data analysis and to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Aristide Dogariu.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Douglass, K., Sukhov, S. & Dogariu, A. Superdiffusion in optically controlled active media. Nature Photon 6, 834–837 (2012).

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