Measurements of the unsteady flow field around beating cilia

Da Wei, Parviz G. Dehnavi, Marie Eve Aubin-Tam, Daniel Tam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


The swift deformations of flagella and cilia are crucial for locomotion and fluid transport on the micron scale. Most hydrodynamic models of flagellar and ciliary flows assume the zero Reynolds number limit and model the flow using Stokes equations. Recent work has demonstrated that this quasi-steady approximation breaks down at increasing distances from the cilia. Here, we use optical tweezer-based velocimetry to measure the flow velocity with high temporal accuracy, and to reconstruct the entire unsteady flow field around beating cilia. We report both the steady and the unsteady component of the ciliary flow and compare them with the solutions to both the Stokes and the Navier-Stokes equations. Our experimental measurements of the velocity and vorticity fields are in agreement with the numerical solution to the Navier-Stokes equations and show significant differences with the solution to the Stokes equations. We characterize the phase difference between the flow oscillations and the oscillations of the ciliary motion and evidence a significant anisotropic phase lag. We show that this phase lag presents the spatiotemporal characteristics of the unsteady Stokes equations and that the flow field around beating cilia is well represented by the fundamental solution to the unsteady Stokes equations: the oscillet.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA70
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • micro-organism dynamics
  • Navier-Stokes equations


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