- Researchers have come up with a new method of sculpting a liquid ‘crystal within a crystal’.
- This crystal could be used to develop next-generation display and sensor technologies that would consume a lot less energy.
Liquid crystal is the middle phase between conventional liquids and solid crystals. It can change shape like a fluid but have the molecular alignment properties of solid crystal.
Because of their unique behavior, they are used in electronic displays and modulated optical devices. LCDs, for example, have a broad range of applications, including computing monitors, instrument panels, televisions, digital cameras, and more.
Now, a research team at the University of Chicago has come up with a new method of sculpting a liquid ‘crystal within a crystal’, which could be used to develop next-generation display and sensor technologies.
Blue Phase Crystals
The molecular orientation of liquid crystals is the main reason why they are used for numerous display technologies. The molecules can also be arranged in highly regular patterns to reflect visible light. This configuration is known as Blue Phase Crystals (BPC).
BPC exhibit highly regular features that reflect or transmit visible light. They have a faster response time and better optical characteristics compared to conventional liquid crystals.
And since features that reflect light in BPCs are separated by large distances (up to 300 molecular diameters instead of just a few atoms), their interfaces can be easily engineered. These interfaces are responsible for chemical reactions, mechanical transformations, and hindering the transport of sound, light, and energy.
These features make BPCs a perfect candidate for optical technologies.
Sculpting a Crystal With Another Crystal
The research team developed a lithography-based technology to engineer a BPC interface. They chemically patterned surfaces to deposit liquid crystals and manipulate their molecular orientation.
The liquid crystal then itself amplifies the molecular orientation, enabling a specific blue crystal to be sculpted within another blue phase crystal. It allowed researchers to build particular tailored crystal shapes within the liquid crystals, a feat that has never been achieved before.
Liquid crystals | Credit: Martelj/Wikimedia
Both current and temperature can be used to manipulate (or change colors of) the newly sculpted crystal. In other words, either current or temperature can change one blue phase into another type of blue phase.
This means we have now a material capable of responding to external stimuli and reflecting light at certain wavelengths. The optical properties of this material can be altered precisely.
And since this crystal-within-a-crystal can be controlled via voltage, temperature, or added chemicals, it could be used for better display technologies and sensing applications.
These crystals require small voltage or temperature variations to change colors, thus devices built with such materials would consume significantly less energy than existing displays.
The study allows scientists to manipulate crystals at the nanoscale and use them for constructing perfectly uniform structures. Researchers plan to experiment with other optical devices and materials. They will use the same technique to develop even more complex systems.