Protocells are objects that mimic one or several functions of biological cells and may be embodied as solid particles, lipid vesicles, or droplets. Our work is based on using decanol droplets in an aqueous solution of sodium decanoate in the presence of salt. A decanol droplet under such conditions bears many qualitative similarities with living cells, such as the ability to move chemotactically, divide and fuse, or change its shape. This article focuses on the description of a shape-changing process induced by the evaporation of water from the decanoate solution. Under these conditions, the droplets perform complex shape changes, whereby the originally round decanol droplets grow into branching patterns and mimic the growth of appendages in bacteria or axon growth of neuronal cells. We report two outcomes: (i) the morphological changes are reversible, and (ii) multiple protocells avoid contact between each other during the morphological transformation. The importance of these morphological changes in the context of artificial life are discussed.
Liquid droplets are very simple objects present in our everyday life. They are extremely important for many natural phenomena as well as for a broad variety of industrial processes. The conventional research areas in which the droplets are studied include physical chemistry, fluid mechanics, chemical engineering, materials science, and micro- and nanotechnology. Typical studies include phenomena such as condensation and droplet formation, evaporation of droplets, or wetting of surfaces. The present article reviews the recent literature that employs droplets as animated soft matter. It is argued that droplets can be considered as liquid robots possessing some characteristics of living systems, and such properties can be applied to unconventional computing through maze solving or operation in logic gates. In particular, the lifelike properties and behavior of liquid robots, namely (i) movement, (ii) self-division, and (iii) group dynamics, will be discussed.