Phys Rev Lett. 2022 Dec 16;129(25):258001. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.129.258001.
Active nematics can be modeled using phenomenological continuum theories that account for the dynamics of the nematic director and fluid velocity through partial differential equations (PDEs). While these models provide a statistical description of the experiments, the relevant terms in the PDEs and their parameters are usually identified indirectly. We adapt a recently developed method to automatically identify optimal continuum models for active nematics directly from spatiotemporal data, via sparse regression of the coarse-grained fields onto generic low order PDEs. After extensive benchmarking, we apply the method to experiments with microtubule-based active nematics, finding a surprisingly minimal description of the system. Our approach can be generalized to gain insights into active gels, microswimmers, and diverse other experimental active matter systems.