Science Bite - Physicists Show How Lifeless Particles can become Life-Like by Switching Behaviors
In groundbreaking research physicists showed that lifeless particles could become life-like by switching behaviors.
Physicists at Emory University found that when they sprinkled plastic particles into a vacuum chamber filled with plasma they acted rather strangely. The particles would begin switching to synchronized movement or become a rigid structure to melting or becoming gas-like. The particles were essentially melting and recrystallizing, going back and forth between the two states. Understanding how systems switch is one of the fundamental questions in physics!
What was even more interesting is that this was a very simple physical system (in a fixed environment) and the researchers suggested that this was not an expected outcome. The study was based on plastic particles which are not living therefore were thought not to have have on and off switches. Incredibly, what they found was that as individuals the specks of plastic could not change from crystalline to fluid states (on and off states) but as a collective (min 40) they did! What this suggests is that changing states/behaviors is universal - something physicists did not think was the case. Let's put this into context ... there are many living systems (such as neurons) which change behaviors (firing and switching off, these re on and off switches).
This study is a model for more complex systems and is truly incredible because nothing remains in one state for long periods of time. It begins to demystify switching behavior in the physical world (living and non-living).
Guram Gogia, Justin C. Burton. Emergent Bistability and Switching in a Nonequilibrium Crystal. Physical Review Letters, 2017; 119 (17) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.119.178004.