‘I drank worms for my thesis’

Tess used worms as a model for active matter, a collection of particles that can move on their own. Active matter is booming business in biology, chemistry and physics, and scientists are desperately looking for a theory that will help them understand the common properties of active matter. That theory could eventually predict the movement of a flock of birds or a school of fish.

Active matter occurs in nature in the form of long chains of always the same molecules: also called polymers. Plastic is an example of a polymer. Experimenting with active polymers is difficult because of the microscopic scale. Thinking of moving polymers, professor of physical chemistry Sander Woutersen soon came up with the small worms that he fed the fish in his aquarium as a child. Those worms behave exactly like active polymer chains.

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