Purdue University Graduate School
PhD_Thesis_NikhilDesai_Nov2019.pdf (17.01 MB)

Oil-microbe Interactions: Hydrodynamic and Chemotactic Influences

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posted on 2019-11-22, 15:23 authored by Nikhil DesaiNikhil Desai
Advances in modern research have unveiled numerous fundamental and practical benefits of studying the hydrodynamics of microorganisms. Many microorganisms, especially bacteria, actively search for nutrients via a process called chemotaxis. The physical constraints posed by hydrodynamics in the locomotion of microorganisms can combine with their chemotactic ability to significantly affect functions like colonization of nutrient sources. In this thesis, we investigate the interplay between hydrodynamics and chemotaxis toward dictating bacterial distribution around fluid-fluid interfaces, which often act as a source of nutrition. We approach our problem statements using mathematical models and numerical and/or semi-analytical tools. Our studies are particularly relevant in the context of hydrocarbon degradation after oil-spills.

We begin by showing that the flow generated by rising oil drops delocalizes dissolved nutrient patches in the ocean, and aids chemotactic bacteria in improving their nutrition (over non-chemotactic bacteria) by 45%. We then move from studying colonization of soluble nutrient patches to colonization around nutrient sources, e.g., oil drops, marine snow. Towards this, we first demonstrate the phenomenon of hydrodynamics-mediated 'trapping' of bacteria around oil drops and show that a surfactant-laden drop can retain an approaching bacterium on its surface for approximately 35% longer times than a clean drop. We also analyze hydrodynamic trapping of bacteria around settling marine snow particles and show how bacteria can collide with and colonize the marine snow, even when the latter moves 10 times faster than the former. In all the cases above, we show how the hydrodynamic interactions are complemented by chemotaxis to enable extremely effective bacterial foraging. We next explore how propulsion mechanisms of microorganisms affect their ability to form biofilms on fluid-fluid interfaces and unveil the hydrodynamic origins behind the tendency of flagellated bacteria to swim parallel to plane surfactant-laden interfaces. Finally, we summarize our results, identify further avenues of research and propose problem statements related to them.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Mechanical Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Arezoo M. Ardekani

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Jun Chen

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Suchuan Dong

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Steven T. Wereley