Active droplets are droplets regulated by chemical reaction cycles. Such droplets are common in our cells as membraneless organelles. Due to their non-equilibrium nature, these droplets are endowed with properties we do not observe for in-equilibrium self-assembly. Their relevance in biology and their exciting new properties are good reasons to build them from the bottom up.
Therefore, we developed a chemical reaction cycle that continuously activates and deactivates molecules for phase separation at the expense of chemical fuel. In response to chemical fuel, droplets emerge that compete for scarce resources. Each droplet receives molecules from the outside phase, where activation happens. That droplet loses material due to the deactivation reaction. That interplay of activation outside and deactivation inside results in fascinating behavior; behavior like droplet emergence, decay, and self-division. In this lecture, I will present the highlights of our findings, offer design rules for active droplets, and give an outlook of their role in the synthesis of life.
With my group, I am developing tools to regulate the self-assembly of molecules the way biology does. We are best known for our work on chemically fueled reaction cycles that control the ability of molecules to assemble or phase separate. The resulting assemblies or phase-separated droplets show exciting new properties, such as their intrinsic ability to self-heal or controllable lifetime. Moreover, the chemically fueled assemblies manifest features we usually associate with living cells, like the ability to emerge, decay, or even self-divide.