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Breakthrough-Induced Loop Formation in Evolving Transport Networks

Stanis{\l}aw \.ZukowskiAnnemiek Johanna Maria CornelissenFlorian OsselinSt\'ephane DouadyPiotr Szymczak
Jan 2024
Transport networks, such as vasculature or river networks, provide key functions in organisms and the environment. They usually contain loops whose significance for the stability and robustness of the network is well documented. However, the dynamics of their formation is usually not considered. The growth of such structures is often driven by the gradient of an external field. During network evolution, extending branches compete for the available flux, which leads to effective repulsion between them and screening of the shorter ones. Yet, in remarkably diverse processes, from unstable fluid flows to the canal system of jellyfish, loops suddenly form near the breakthrough when the longest branch reaches the boundary of the system. We provide a physical explanation for this universal behavior. Using a 1D model, we explain that the appearance of effective attractive forces results from the field drop inside the leading finger as it approaches the outlet. Furthermore, we numerically study the interactions between two fingers, including screening in the system and its disappearance near the breakthrough. Finally, we perform simulations of the temporal evolution of the fingers to show how revival and attraction to the longest finger leads to dynamic loop formation. We compare the simulations to the experiments and find that the dynamics of the shorter finger is well reproduced. Our results demonstrate that reconnection is a prevalent phenomenon in systems driven by diffusive fluxes, occurring both when the ratio of the mobility inside the growing structure to the mobility outside is low and near the breakthrough.
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