Inverse problems and control of active matter

Suraj Shankar
Department of Physics
Harvard University

We are active matter. From molecular motors noisily walking in living cells to the mesmerizing swirls in a starling flock, systems driven far from equilibrium by a sustained flux of energy through its constituents routinely exhibit stunning emergent phenomena that pose fundamental challenges to our understanding of the natural world. We know a lot about what patterns and dynamics active systems can exhibit, but much less is known about the inverse problem of controlling active matter. I will discuss our current work on searching for design principles to control localized excitations, drops etc., in active materials using ideas from optimal control theory and symmetry. I will conclude by highlighting future directions for embodying function, programmable response and computation in biological and synthetic active systems.