Assemblages of microscopic colloidal particles exhibit fascinating collective motion when energized by electric or magnetic fields. The behaviors range from coherent vortical motion to phase separation and dynamic self-assembly. Although colloidal systems are relatively simple, understanding their collective response, especially under out-of-equilibrium conditions, remains elusive. We report on the emergence of flocking and global rotation in the system of rolling ferromagnetic microparticles energized by a vertical alternating magnetic field. By combing experiments and discrete particle simulations, we have identified primary physical mechanisms, leading to the emergence of large-scale collective motion: spontaneous symmetry breaking of the clockwise/counterclockwise particle rotation, collisional alignment of particle velocities, and random particle reorientations due to shape imperfections. We have also shown that hydrodynamic interactions between the particles do not have a qualitative effect on the collective dynamics. Our findings shed light on the onset of spatial and temporal coherence in a large class of active systems, both synthetic (colloids, swarms of robots, and biopolymers) and living (suspensions of bacteria, cell colonies, and bird flocks).
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