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Propulsion by a helical flagellum in a capillary tube
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We study the microscale propulsion of a rotating helical filament confined by a cylindrical tube, using a boundary-element method for Stokes flow that accounts for helical symmetry. We determine the effect of confinement on swimming speed and power consumption. Except for a small range of tube radii at the tightest confinements, the swimming speed at fixed rotation rate increases monotonically as the confinement becomes tighter. At fixed torque, the swimming speed and power consumption depend only on the geometry of the filament centerline, except at the smallest pitch angles for which the filament thickness plays a role. We find that the “normal” geometry of Escherichia coli flagella is optimized for swimming efficiency, independent of the degree of confinement. The efficiency peaks when the arc length of the helix within a pitch matches the circumference of the cylindrical wall. We also show that a swimming helix in a tube induces a net flow of fluid along the tube.
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