Propulsive Force Measurements and Flow Behavior of Undulatory Swimmers at Low Reynolds Number
The swimming behavior of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is investigated in aqueous solutions of increasing viscosity. Detailed flow dynamics associated with the nematode’s swimming motion as well as propulsive force and power are obtained using particle tracking and velocimetry methods. We find that C. elegans delivers propulsive thrusts on the order of a few nanonewtons. Such findings are supported by values obtained using resistive force theory; the ratio of normal to tangential drag coefficients is estimated to be approximately 1.4. Over the range of solutions investigated here, the flow properties remain largely independent of viscosity. Velocity magnitudes of the flow away from the nematode body decay rapidly within less than a body length and collapse onto a single master curve. Overall, our findings support that C. elegans is an attractive living model to study the coupling between small-scale propulsion and low Reynolds number hydrodynamics.