Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jennifer M. Schwarz


cell migration, granular material, Hyperbolic lattices, Jamming, jamming graph, percolation

Subject Categories

Physical Sciences and Mathematics | Physics


Many of the standard equilibrium statistical mechanics techniques do not readily apply to non-equilibrium phase transitions such as the fluid-to-disordered solid transition found in repulsive particulate systems. Examples of repulsive particulate systems are sand grains and colloids. The first part of this thesis contributes to methods beyond equilibrium statistical mechanics to ultimately understand the nature of the fluid-to-disordered solid transition, or jamming, from a microscopic basis.

In Chapter 2 we revisit the concept of minimal rigidity as applied to frictionless, repulsive soft sphere packings in two dimensions with the

introduction of the jamming graph. Minimal rigidity is a purely combinatorial property encoded via Laman's theorem in two dimensions. It constrains the global, average coordination number of the graph, for instance. Minimal rigidity, however, does not address the geometry of local

mechanical stability. The jamming graph contains both properties of global mechanical stability at the onset of jamming and local mechanical stability. We demonstrate how jamming graphs can be constructed using local rules via the Henneberg construction such that these graphs are of the constraint percolation type, where percolation is the study of connected structures in disordered networks. We then probe how jamming graphs destabilize, or become fluid-like, by deleting an edge/contact in the graph and computing the resulting rigid cluster distribution. We also uncover a new potentially diverging lengthscale associated with the random deletion of contacts.

In Chapter 3 we study several constraint percolation models, such as k-core percolation and counter-balance percolation, on hyperbolic lattices to better understand the role of loops in such models. The constraints in these percolation models incorporate aspects of local mechanical rigidity found in jammed systems. The expectation is that since these models are indeed easier to analyze than the more complicated problem of jamming, we will gain insight into which constraints affect the nature of the jamming transition and which do not. We find that k = 3-core percolation on the hyperbolic lattice remains a continuous phase transition despite the fact that the loop structure of hyperbolic lattices is different from Euclidean lattices. We also contribute towards numerical techniques for analyzing percolation on hyperbolic lattices.

In Chapters 4 and 5 we turn to living matter, which is also nonequilibrium in a very local way in that each constituent has its own internal energy supply. In Chapter 4 we study the fluidity of a cell moving through a confluent tissue, i.e. a group of cells with no gaps between them, via T1 transitions. A T1 transition allows for an edge swap so that a cell can come into contact with new neighbors. Cell migration is then generated by a sequence of such swaps. In a simple four cell system we compute the energy barriers associated with this transition. We then find that the energy barriers in a larger system are rather similar to the four cell case. The many cell case, however, more easily allows for the collection of statistics of these energy barriers given the disordered packings of cell observed in experiments. We find that the energy barriers are exponentially distributed. Such a finding implies that glassy dynamics is possible in a confluent tissue.

Finally, in chapter 5 we turn to single cell migration in the extracellular matrix, another native environment of a cell. Experiments suggest that the migration of some cells in the three-dimensional ext ra cellular matrix bears strong resemblance to one-dimensional cell migration. Motivated by this observation, we construct and study a minimal one-dimensional model cell made of two beads and an active spring moving along a rigid track. The active spring models the stress fibers with their myosin-driven contractility and alpha-actinin-driven extendability, while the friction coefficients of the two beads describe the catch/slip bond behavior of the integrins in focal adhesions. Net motion arises from an interplay between active contractility (and passive extendability) of the stress fibers and an asymmetry between the front and back of the cell due to catch bond behavior of integrins at the front of the cell and slip bond behavior of integrins at the back. We obtain reasonable cell speeds with independently estimated parameters. Our model highlights the role of alpha-actinin in three-dimensional cell motility and does not require Arp2/3 actin filament nucleation for net motion.


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