Lost, alone, and buffeted by ocean currents: this is the beginning of life for many oceanic larvae. These tiny organisms, often only 100 micrometers in diameter, must seek a suitable new habitat by searching over length scales thousands of times their own. But searching for something you can’t see while being dragged this way and that by ocean currents can’t be easy. How do these microscopic creatures make sense of the turbulent world around them and find their home?
In today’s study, Dunkel and his colleagues investigate how bacteria can make flow patterns that look turbulent – chaotic and full of vortices – even though bacteria are tiny and slow. The bacteria push the fluid around as they swim and create vortices, spinning regions in the fluid. The 5 ?m long bacteria create vortices with diameters of 80 ?m by swimming at the speed of 30 ?m/s!