Solvent vapour mediated spontaneous healing of self-organized defects of liquid crystal films†
Ultrathin liquid crystal films showed a nematic to isotropic transition when exposed to solvent vapour for a short duration while a reverse isotropic to nematic transition was observed when the film was isolated from the solvent exposure. The phase transitions were associated with the appearance and fading of surface patterns as the solvent molecules diffused into and out of the film matrix, resulting in the destruction or restoration of the orientational order. A long-time solvent vapour exposure caused the dewetting of the film on the surface, which was demonstrated by the formation of holes and their growth in size with the progress of time. Even at this stage, withdrawal of the solvent exposure produced an array of nematic fingers, which nearly self-healed the dewetted holes. The change in contact angle due to the phase transition coupled with the imbalance of osmotic pressure across the contact line due to the differential rate of solvent evaporation from the film and the hole helped the fingers to grow towards the centre of the hole. The appearance of the fingers upon withdrawal of the solvent exposure and their disappearance upon exposure to solvent were also found to be a nearly reversible process. These findings could significantly contribute to the development of vapour sensors and self-healing surfaces using liquid crystal thin films.