Journal of Fluid Mechanics


Hydrodynamics of self-propulsion near a boundary: predictions and accuracy of far-field approximations

Saverio E. Spagnoliea1a2 c1 and Eric Laugaa2

a1 School of Engineering, Brown University, 182 Hope Street, Providence, RI 02912, USA

a2 Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA


The swimming trajectories of self-propelled organisms or synthetic devices in a viscous fluid can be altered by hydrodynamic interactions with nearby boundaries. We explore a multipole description of swimming bodies and provide a general framework for studying the fluid-mediated modifications to swimming trajectories. A general axisymmetric swimmer is described as a linear combination of fundamental solutions to the Stokes equations: a Stokeslet dipole, a source dipole, a Stokeslet quadrupole, and a rotlet dipole. The effects of nearby walls or stress-free surfaces on swimming trajectories are described through the contribution of each singularity, and we address the question of how accurately this multipole approach captures the wall effects observed in full numerical solutions of the Stokes equations. The reduced model is used to provide simple but accurate predictions of the wall-induced attraction and pitching dynamics for model Janus particles, ciliated organisms, and bacteria-like polar swimmers. Transitions in attraction and pitching behaviour as functions of body geometry and propulsive mechanism are described. The reduced model may help to explain a number of recent experimental results.

(Received October 10 2011)

(Reviewed January 13 2012)

(Accepted February 16 2012)

(Online publication April 16 2012)

Key Words:

  • low-Reynolds-number flows;
  • micro-organism dynamics;
  • swimming/flying


c1 Email addresses for correspondence:,