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Hybrid molecular-colloidal liquid crystals

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Science  18 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6390, pp. 768-771
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9359

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Finding order in twos

In nematic liquid crystals, the local orientation of the molecules hovers around an average direction. The orientational control bestows unusual optical properties. In theory, with the right sort of two-dimensional shape, it should be possible to create nematics with biaxial ordering, but this has proven elusive. Mundoor et al. dispersed colloidal rods into a nematic solvent (see the Perspective by Poulin). Within a range of temperature and concentration, the rods ordered orthogonally to the solvent molecules, thus giving the mixture the type of properties that one would expect from a biaxial liquid crystal.

Science, this issue p. 768; see also p. 712

Abstract

Order and fluidity often coexist, with examples ranging from biological membranes to liquid crystals, but the symmetry of these soft-matter systems is typically higher than that of the constituent building blocks. We dispersed micrometer-long inorganic colloidal rods in a nematic liquid crystalline fluid of molecular rods. Both types of uniaxial building blocks, while freely diffusing, interact to form an orthorhombic nematic fluid, in which like-sized rods are roughly parallel to each other and the molecular ordering direction is orthogonal to that of colloidal rods. A coarse-grained model explains the experimental temperature-concentration phase diagram with one biaxial and two uniaxial nematic phases, as well as the orientational distributions of rods. Displaying properties of biaxial optical crystals, these hybrid molecular-colloidal fluids can be switched by electric and magnetic fields.

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