A team of researchers from MIT and Cambridge University has discovered that when bacteria are made to flow through a lattice, they synchronize and swim in patterns just like electrons orbiting atoms.


By carefully tuning the dimensions of the lattice work, the team were able to make millions of bacteria move around the channels in different ways. With one set of dimensions, they swirl around the space in the same direction, like electrons in a magnetic material. With some tweaks, the bacteria flowed in opposite directions, like they would in a nonmagnetic material.

You can see the behavior in the image above, which shows bacteria swirling in wells of 70-micron diameter, etched into a rubber-like polymer. The team achieved the different kinds of circulation by varying the diameter of the inter-connecting channels.


“It’s very surprising that we see this universality,” said Jörn Dunkel, one of the researchers, in a press release. “You have a living system here that shows all these behaviors that people think are also going on in quantum systems.”

[arXiv via MIT]