More than 100 years after two imaginative physicists proposed a new liquid crystal phase, scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder have managed to create it and were “shocked” by its behavior,media New Atlas reported. The new “iron wire granules” have proved highly reactive relative to electric fields, and by improving their understanding of their unique behavior, the team hopes it will lead to a whole new material, the “cosmic”.
The origins of this discovery date back to the early 19th century, when Nobel laureates Peter Debye and Max Born began to think about a new liquid crystal, which featured neatly arranged molecules in a consistent direction rather than randomly pointing to the left or right. The researchers soon discovered solid crystals that exhibited this behavior, with their molecules arranged in the same direction and able to flip under the influence of an electric field. These “iron-electric” solid crystals mark a major advance in the field of materials, but liquid crystal phases with the same properties have not been found until now.
The newly discovered liquid crystal phase is a form of mitochondrial liquid crystal that provides a mixture of fluid sand and solids, giving it a unique ability to control light. This made them the foundation of LCD screens and helped usher in the era of portable computing. Mitochondrial liquid crystals are made up of rod-like molecules with a positive charge at one end and a negative charge at the other. A typical mitochondrial liquid crystal is characterized by a random arrangement in which half of the molecules point to the left and the other half to the right. The idea of iron wire granules will see these molecules’ plaques point in the same direction, a concept known as polarity sorting.
Scientists at the Soft Materials Research Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder are experimenting with an organic molecule called RM734 that exhibits a traditional mitochondrial liquid crystal phase at high temperatures and another unusual phase at low temperatures. When looking at the molecule under a microscope, the team noted that when affected by a weak electric field, the edges of cells containing liquid crystals began to show striking mixed colors. Further investigation showed that this stage of rm734 responded to the electric field 100 to 1000 times more sensitively than a typical mitochondrial liquid crystal, and when it cooled from a higher temperature, it spontaneously formed a patchwork of arranged molecules.
“This confirms that this stage is indeed an iron wire particle liquid, ” said Noel Clark, a physics professor and head of the research team. After looking closely at the molecules, scientists were “shocked” by how neat they were, and almost all of them were pointing in the same direction. Study co-author Matt Glaser said the iron-electric of liquid crystals “opens the door to a new material universe” to the column phase, which could be found in new displays or computer components.
“There are 40,000 research papers on column-to-phase liquid crystals, and in almost any paper you can see interesting new possibilities, if the phase is always iron-electric,” Clark said.
From here, the team is continuing to study RM734 through computer simulations to better understand how it formed this new phase.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.