Cage Length Controls the Nonmonotonic Dynamics of Active Glassy Matter

VE Debets and XM de Wit and LMC Janssen, PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS, 127, 278002 (2021).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.127.278002

Dense active matter is gaining widespread interest due to its remarkable similarity with conventional glass-forming materials. However, active matter is inherently out of equilibrium and even simple models such as active Brownian particles (ABPs) and active Ornstein-Uhlenbeck particles (AOUPs) behave markedly differently from their passive counterparts. Controversially, this difference has been shown to manifest itself via either a speedup, slowdown, or nonmonotonic change of the glassy relaxation dynamics. Here we rationalize these seemingly contrasting views on the departure from equilibrium by identifying the ratio of the short-time length scale to the cage length, i.e., the length scale of local particle caging, as a vital and unifying control parameter for active glassy matter. In particular, we explore the glassy dynamics of both thermal and athermal ABPs and AOUPs upon increasing the persistence time. We find that for all studied systems there is an optimum of the dynamics; this optimum occurs when the cage length coincides with the corresponding short-time length scale of the system, which is either the persistence length for athermal systems or a combination of the persistence length and a diffusive length scale for thermal systems. This new insight, for which we also provide a simple physical argument, allows us to reconcile and explain the manifestly disparate departures from equilibrium reported in many previous studies of dense active materials.

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