Oscillating Modes of Driven Colloids in Overdamped Systems

Nature Communications 9, 999 (2018)

Microscopic colloidal particles suspended in liquids are a prominent example of an overdamped system where viscous forces dominate over inertial effects. Frequently, colloids are used as sensitive probes, e.g., in biophysical applications from which molecular forces are inferred. The interpretation of such experiments rests on the assumption that, even when the particles are driven, the liquid remains in equilibrium. Here we experimentally demonstrate that this is not valid for particles in viscoelastic fluids. Even at small driving forces, we observe particle oscillations with several tens of seconds. They are attributed to non-equilibrium fluctuations of the fluid being excited by the particle’s motion. The oscillatory dynamics is in quantitative agreement with an overdamped Langevin equation with negative friction-memory term being equivalent to a stochastically driven underdamped oscillator. Such oscillatory modes are expected to widen the use of colloids as model systems but must also be considered in colloidal probe experiments.