Classifying and characterizing active materials

Synthese 199 (1):2007-2026 (2020)
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This article examines the distinction between active matter and active materials, and it offers foundational remarks toward a system of classification for active materials. Active matter is typically identified as matter that exhibits two characteristic features: self-propelling parts, and coherent dynamical activity among the parts. These features are exhibited across a wide range of organic and inorganic materials, and they are jointly sufficient for classifying matter as active. Recently, the term “active materials” has entered scientific use as a complement, supplement, and extension of “active matter.” At the same time, new work in the philosophy of science has considered the problem of how to classify the products of synthetic and laboratory processes, and the extent to which the aims of classifying natural kinds compare and contrasts with the aims of classifying these synthetic kinds. In this article, I apply those considerations to the problems of classifying and characterizing active materials. In doing so, I also argue for a conception of active materials’ coherent dynamical activity as multiscale, rather than emergent, and I discuss how the special non-equilibrium status of active materials factors in to classificatory concerns.

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Julia Bursten
University of Kentucky


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