Meet the vortex, a new type of matter that bends the laws of physics

Meet the vortex, a new type of matter that bends the laws of physics

School of fish, swarm of insects and birds fly in whispers. Today, new research reveals that at the most basic level, this type of group behavior forms a new type of active material, called the vortex state.

Physical laws such as Newton’s second law of motion – which states that when a force applied to an object increases, its acceleration increases and that when the mass of the object increases, its acceleration decreases – applies to passive and non-living matter, ranging from atoms to planets. But much of the matter in the world is active matter and moves under its own self-directed force, said Nikolai Brilliantov, a mathematician at the Skolkovo Institute of Sciences and Technology in Russia and at the University of Leicester in England. Living beings as diverse as bacteria, birds and humans can interact with the forces on them. There are also examples of non-living active material. Nanoparticles, called “Janus particles”, are made up of two sides with different chemical properties. The interactions between the two sides create a self-propelled movement.

Related: What is that? Answers to your physics questions

To explore the active ingredient, Brilliantov and his colleagues used a computer to simulate …

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