Liquid crystals: living cells and flat screen TVs


Liquid crystal Coexistence region between a true crystal (left) and a nematic liquid crystal (right)

A number of UK research groups are studying liquid crystals to develop new materials and also new ideas for future liquid crystal applications.

Liquid crystals are the key component of LCDs (liquid crystal displays) familiar in many IT devices, from mobile phones to flat-screen TVs.  They flow like liquids but transmit light and stretch like crystals.  Discovered in 1888, and for long seen as curiosities, their properties can now be controlled and applied.  Yet few people understand how the devices work or the potential liquid crystals have for creating new products.

 “Liquid crystals have the potential to create new materials with novel properties for advanced applications well beyond today’s LCD TVs.  Our research stretches from the most fundamental to the immediately applicable,” says Professor Tim Sluckin, School of Mathematics, University of Southampton.

Visitors to the exhibit will see many different aspects of liquid crystals. They will see the inner workings of LCDs, temperature sensing foils, and amazing liquid crystal polymers. There will even be iridescent beetles, who rely on liquid crystals for their dramatic appearance. Visitors will be able to experience the variety of liquid crystal properties through hands-on experiments and interactive computer simulations.

Exhibited by University of Southampton; University of Manchester; Sheffield Hallam University