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Information for Researchers No. 35 | 16 June 2016
Priority Programme “Microswimmers – From Single Particle Motion to Collective Behaviour” (SPP 1726)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has established the Priority Programme “Microswimmers – From Single Particle Motion to Collective Behaviour” (SPP 1726) in March 2013. The programme is scheduled to run for six years; the present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

Locomotion and transport of microorganisms in fluids is an essential aspect of life. Search for food, orientation towards light, spreading of progeny, and the formation of colonies require locomotion. Microorganisms, such as bacteria, algae and sperm, exploit flagella for propulsion. Swimming at the microscale occurs at low Reynolds numbers, where fluid friction and viscosity dominates inertia. This requires swimming strategies different from those of the macroscopic world. During evolution propulsion mechanisms developed that overcome or even exploit drag. Understanding these propulsion mechanisms opens an avenue for the control of biological systems and the design of artificial nanomachines, with a major impact on various research areas ranging from life science and material science to environmental science. For artificial microswimmers, alternative concepts to convert chemical energy or heat into directed motion can be employed, which are potentially more efficient.

The dynamics of microswimmers shows many facets, which are all required to achieve locomotion. At the level of an individual swimmer, the propulsion mechanism needs to be unraveled. Thereby, the question on the energy supplied for persistent motion has to be addressed. The response to external stimuli by chemical signals, light, gravitational fields, and flow fields, represents another important area. A major challenge is the understanding and control of emergent collective behaviour of microswimmers. Here, the mechanisms underlying the formation of large-scale patterns, such as networks and swarms of microswimmers, needs to be addressed.

The aim of the Priority Programme is to coherently combine the research activities on microswimmers in biology, biophysics, theoretical and experimental soft matter physics, and simulation sciences. Advanced experimental techniques, new nanotechnological tools, soft-matter chemistry and physics, and novel simulation approaches, promise deeper insights into the underlying physical and biochemical processes, and provide the tools to design and construct new artificial microswimmers.

Accordingly, the major focus of the Priority Programme is:

  • understanding of biological microswimmers,
  • design and understanding of artificial microswimmers,
  • cooperative behaviour and swarming of ensembles of microswimmers.

Several related systems exist, in which similar mechanisms are essential and similar types of structures are involved. On the mesoscale, these are mixtures of biological filaments and motor proteins, and vibrated granular systems; on the macroscale, swarms of birds and schools of fish emerge. Because the focus of the Priority Programme is on physical interactions between active particles, like excluded-volume and hydrodynamic interactions, we envisage beneficial synergies between related mesoscale systems. However, macroscale biological swarms are governed by other mechanisms, and are therefore outside of the focus of this Priority Programme.

Applicants are kindly requested to send an outline of their proposal in electronic form (PDF file) to the DFG Office, Dr. Cosima Schuster, and the coordinator, Professor Gerhard Gompper, by 1 September 2016. The one-page outline should contain a short description of the proposed project, an assignment to one of the three research areas and information about the applicants. The sub-mission of a proposal outline is voluntary and non-committal.

Proposals for the second three-year funding period can be submitted by 7 November 2016 at the latest through the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system “elan”. In the elan system, please select the SPP “Microswimmers” when submitting your proposal. All proposals must be written in English. Proposal guidelines and preparation instructions are outlined in DFG forms 54.01en and 50.05en, part B. Please study carefully the publication rules set by the DFG.

The review will be held during an evaluation workshop, which is planned for 26/27 January 2017 at the Physikzentrum, Bad Honnef.

Further information

The electronic portal “elan” with proposal instructions and guidelines can be found at:

The proposal instruction and guidelines are also available under:

Further information on the Priority Programme can be found at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme’s coordinator:

For administrative enquiries please contact: