Structural transformations in tetravalent nematic shells induced by a magnetic field
The role of applied fields on the structure of liquid crystals confined to shell geometries has been studied in past theoretical work, providing strategies to produce liquid crystal shells with controlled defect structure or valence. However, the predictions of such studies have not been experimentally explored yet. In this work, we study the structural transformations undergone by tetravalent nematic liquid crystal shells under a strong uniform magnetic field, using both experiments and simulations. We consider two different cases in terms of shell geometry and initial defect symmetry: (i) homogeneous shells with four s = +1/2 defects in a tetrahedral arrangement, and (ii) inhomogeneous shells with four s = +1/2 defects localized in their thinner parts. Consistently with previous theoretical results, we observe that the initial defect structure evolves into a bipolar one, in a process where the defects migrate towards the poles. Interestingly, we find that the defect trajectories and dynamics are controlled by curvature walls that connect the defects by pairs. Based on the angle between Bs, the local projection of the magnetic field on the shell surface, and n+½, a vector describing the defect orientations, we are able to predict the nature and shape of those inversion walls, and therefore, the trajectory and dynamics of the defects. This rule, based on symmetry arguments, is consistent with both experiments and simulations and applies for shells that are either homogeneous or inhomogeneous in thickness. By modifying the angle between Bs and n+½, we are able to induce, in controlled way, complex routes towards the final bipolar state. In the case of inhomogeneous shells, the specific symmetry of the shell allowed us to observe a hybrid splay-bend Helfrich wall for the first time.