Rheology of bacterial suspensions under confinement

Zhengyang Liu, Kechun Zhang, Xiang Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


As a paradigmatic model of active fluids, bacterial suspensions show intriguing rheological responses drastically different from their counterpart colloidal suspensions. Although the flow of bulk bacterial suspensions has been extensively studied, the rheology of bacterial suspensions under confinement has not been experimentally explored. Here, using a microfluidic viscometer, we systematically measure the rheology of dilute Escherichia coli suspensions under different degrees of confinement. Our study reveals a strong confinement effect: the viscosity of bacterial suspensions decreases substantially when the confinement scale is comparable or smaller than the run length of bacteria. Moreover, we also investigate the microscopic dynamics of bacterial suspensions including velocity profiles, bacterial density distributions, and single bacterial dynamics in shear flows. These measurements allow us to construct a simple heuristic model based on the boundary layer of upstream swimming bacteria near confining walls, which qualitatively explains our experimental observations. Our study sheds light on the influence of the boundary layer of collective bacterial motions on the flow of confined bacterial suspensions. Our results provide a benchmark for testing different rheological models of active fluids and are useful for understanding the transport of microorganisms in confined geometries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-451
Number of pages13
JournalRheologica Acta
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Active fluids
  • Bacterial suspensions
  • Boundary layers
  • Confinement
  • Upstream swimming


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