ASC Hilary Term Lecture: “Liquid Crystals and their Myriad Applications"
Thursday 06 August, 2015
Dr. Apala Majumdar (University of Bath/ Keble College) delivered our ASC Hilary Term Lecture, and talked about her work on liquid crystals (LC). Apala took us into the world of liquid crystals, explaining what they are, their fortuitous discovery in 1888 during a cholesterol melting point experiment, and the birth of the ‘liquid crystal’ industry during the 1960s when a wide range of commercial applications began to be exploited. At the time no one predicted that only a few decades later it would support a multi-billion dollar industry.
Liquid crystals are a state of matter somewhere between solids and liquids: they have less order than a solid but less fluidity than a liquid. According to the arrangement of their molecules and their interactions, liquid crystals can be of two types: nematic or smetic. Apala’s work is based on the former which can be described as liquids with a directional flow as their molecules move together. This type of liquid crystal behaviour is actually ubiquitous in nature; some examples include human cells and tissues, bacterial suspensions, colonies of microorganisms, and flocks of birds. In industry, these crystals are also all around us. They are used on devices that require a good response to light and temperature such as TV, digital watches and other devices with LCD screens.
The study and industrial use of liquid crystals call for emerging applications which exploit fluidity and order in liquid crystals to produce a desired behaviour. Mathematics has proved to be useful to predict and model liquid crystal behaviour, to understand universal defects or material imperfections, as well as to translate its microscopic behaviour into macro phenomena. Understanding this better will help not just the industry to develop better liquid crystals but other research areas such as physics, cosmology, biology and chemistry where liquid crystals can be found. Apala pointed out the importance of mathematics for liquid crystal study and the importance of different areas of maths working together.
Images: (Top) Apala Majumdar with Professor Tom Higham, Interim Director of the ASC, and Professor Gui-Qiang Chen, co-leader of our Complexity Cluster. (Below) Apala Majumdar delivering her talk.