Hydrodynamics of micro-swimmers in films

One of the principal mechanisms by which surfaces and interfaces affect microbial life is by perturbing the hydrodynamic flows generated by swimming. By summing a recursive series of image systems, we derive a numerically tractable approximation to the three-dimensional flow fields of a stokeslet (point force) within a viscous film between a parallel no-slip surface and a no-shear interface and, from this Green’s function, we compute the flows produced by a force- and torque-free micro-swimmer. We also extend the exact solution of Liron & Mochon (J. Engng Maths, vol. 10 (4), 1976, pp. 287–303) to the film geometry, which demonstrates that the image series gives a satisfactory approximation to the swimmer flow fields if the film is sufficiently thick compared to the swimmer size, and we derive the swimmer flows in the thin-film limit. Concentrating on the thick-film case, we find that the dipole moment induces a bias towards swimmer accumulation at the no-slip wall rather than the water–air interface, but that higher-order multipole moments can oppose this. Based on the analytic predictions, we propose an experimental method to find the multipole coefficient that induces circular swimming trajectories, allowing one to analytically determine the swimmer’s three-dimensional position under a microscope.