Surface traction and the dynamics of elastic rods at low Reynolds number

Eva M. Strawbridge, Charles W. Wolgemuth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Molecular and cell biological processes often use proteins and structures that are significantly longer in one dimension than they are in the other two, for example, DNA, actin, and bacterial flagella. The dynamics of these structures are the consequence of the balance between the elastic forces from the structure itself and viscous forces from the surrounding fluid. Typically, the motion of these filamentary objects is described using variations of the Kirchhoff rod equations with resistive forces from the fluid treated as body forces acting on the centerline. In reality, though, these forces are applied to the surface of the filament; however, the standard derivation of the Kirchhoff equations ignores surface traction stresses. Here, we rederive the Kirchhoff rod equations in the presence of resistive traction stresses and determine the conditions under which treating the drag forces as body forces is reasonable. We show that in most biologically relevant cases the standard implementation of resistive forces into the Kirchhoff rod equations is applicable; however, we note one particular biological system where the Kirchhoff rod formalism may not apply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number031904
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 5 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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