Soft matter from liquid crystals
Liquid crystals (LCs) are fluids within which molecules exhibit long-range orientational order, leading to anisotropic properties such as optical birefringence and curvature elasticity. Because the ordering of molecules within LCs can be altered by weak external stimuli, LCs have been widely used to create soft matter systems that respond optically to electric fields (LC display), temperature (LC thermometer) or molecular adsorbates (LC chemical sensor). More recent studies, however, have moved beyond investigations of optical responses of LCs to explore the design of complex LC-based soft matter systems that offer the potential to realize more sophisticated functions (e.g., autonomous, self-regulating chemical responses to mechanical stimuli) by directing the interactions of small molecules, synthetic colloids and living cells dispersed within the bulk of LCs or at their interfaces. These studies are also increasingly focusing on LC systems driven beyond equilibrium states. This review presents one perspective on these advances, with an emphasis on the discovery of fundamental phenomena that may enable new technologies. Three areas of progress are highlighted; (i) directed assembly of amphiphilic molecules either within topological defects of LCs or at aqueous interfaces of LCs, (ii) templated polymerization in LCs via chemical vapor deposition, an approach that overcomes fundamental challenges related to control of LC phase behavior during polymerization, and (iii) studies of colloids in LCs, including chiral colloids, soft colloids that are strained by LCs, and active colloids that are driven into organized states by dissipation of energy (e.g. bacteria). These examples, and key unresolved issues discussed at the end of this perspective, serve to convey the message that soft matter systems that integrate ideas from LC, surfactant, polymer and colloid sciences define fertile territory for fundamental studies and creation of future transformative technologies.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Soft Matter 15th Anniversary Perspectives