Variational methods and deep Ritz method for active elastic solids

Haiqin Wang, Boyi Zou, Jian Su, Dong Wang, Xinpeng Xu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Variational methods have been widely used in soft matter physics for both static and dynamic problems. These methods are mostly based on two variational principles: the variational principle of minimum free energy (MFEVP) and Onsager's variational principle (OVP). Our interests lie in the applications of these variational methods to active matter physics. In our former work [H. Wang, T. Qian and X. Xu, Soft Matter, 2021, 17, 3634–3653], we have explored the applications of OVP-based variational methods for the modeling of active matter dynamics. In the present work, we explore variational (or energy) methods that are based on MFEVP for static problems in active elastic solids. We show that MFEVP can be used not only to derive equilibrium equations, but also to develop approximate solution methods, such as the Ritz method, for active solid statics. Moreover, the power of the Ritz-type method can be further enhanced using deep learning methods if we use deep neural networks to construct the trial functions of the variational problems. We then apply these variational methods and the deep Ritz method to study the spontaneous bending and contraction of a thin active circular plate that is induced by internal asymmetric active contraction. The circular plate is found to be bent towards its contracting side. The study of such a simple toy system gives implications for understanding the morphogenesis of solid-like confluent cell monolayers. In addition, we introduce a so-called activogravity length to characterize the importance of gravitational forces relative to internal active contraction in driving the bending of the active plate. When the lateral plate dimension is larger than the activogravity length (about 100 micron), gravitational forces become important. Such gravitaxis behaviors at multicellular scales may play significant roles in the morphogenesis and in the up-down symmetry broken during tissue development.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSoft Matter
StatePublished - 19 Jul 2022


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