An active colloid is a suspension of particles that transduce free energy from their environment and use the energy to engage in intrinsically non-equilibrium activities such as growth, replication and self-propelled motility. An obvious example of active colloids is a suspension of bacteria such as Escherichia coli, their physical dimensions being almost invariably in the colloidal range. Synthetic self-propelled particles have also become available recently, such as two-faced, or Janus, particles propelled by differential chemical reactions on their surfaces driving a self-phoretic motion. In these lectures, I give a pedagogical introduction to the physics of single-particle and collective properties of active colloids, focussing on self-propulsion. I will compare and contrast phenomena in suspensions of “swimmers” with the behaviour of suspensions of passive particles, where only Brownian motion (discovered by Robert Brown in granules from the pollen of the wild flower Clarkia pulchella) is relevant. I will pay particular attention to issues that pertain to performing experiments using these active particle suspensions, such as how to characterise the suspension's swimming speed distribution, and include an appendix to guide physicists wanting to start culturing motile bacteria.
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