Molecular Crystals and Liquid Crystals, Vol.646, No.1, 226-234, 2017
Control of active nematics with passive liquid crystals
Motor-proteins are responsible for transport inside cells. Harnessing their activity is key towards developing new nano-technologies, or functional biomaterials. Cytoskeleton-like networks result from the self-assembly of subcellular autonomous units. Taming this biological activity bottom-up may thus require molecular level alterations compromising protein integrity. Taking a top-down perspective, here we prove that the seemingly chaotic flows of a tubulin-kinesin active gel can be forced to adopt well-defined spatial directions by tuning the anisotropic viscosity of a contacting Smectic-A liquid crystal. Different configurations of the active material are realized, when the thermotropic liquid crystal is either unforced or commanded by a magnetic field. The inherent instability of the extensile active fluid is thus spatially regularized, leading to organized flow patterns, endowed with characteristic length and time scales. Our finding paves the way for designing hybrid active/passive systems where ATP-driven dynamics can be externally conditioned.