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Magnetically responsive liquid crystals enable novel display applications

June 30, 2014 // Paul Buckley

Magnetically responsive liquid crystals enable novel display applications

Scientiists at the University of California, Riverside have constructed liquid crystals with optical properties that can be instantly and reversibly controlled by an external magnetic field and paving the way for novel display applications.


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Further, the magnetic nanorods can be used to produce thin-film liquid crystals, the orientation of which can be fixed entirely or in just selected areas by combining magnetic alignment and lithographic processes. This allows patterns of different polarizations to be created as well as control over the transmittance of polarized light in select areas.

Such a thin film does not display visual information under normal light, but shows high contrast patterns under polarized light, making it immediately very useful for anti-counterfeit applications, Yin said. This is not possible with commercial liquid crystals. In addition, the materials involved in our magnetic liquid crystals are made of iron oxide and silica, which are much cheaper and more eco-friendly than the commercial organic molecules-based liquid crystals.

The liquid crystals may also find applications as optical modulators - optical communication devices for controlling the amplitude, phase, polarization, propagation direction of light.

The discovery came about when Yins lab first had the idea of using magnetic nanorods to replace rod-shaped molecules in commercial systems to produce liquid crystals that can be magnetically controlled. After looking into the literature, the research team realized that the main challenge in producing practically useful magnetic liquid crystals was in the synthesis of magnetic nanorods.

Prior attempts had been limited to materials with very limited magnetic responses, Yin said. We utilized our expertise in colloidal nanostructure synthesis to produce magnetite nanorods that can form liquid crystals and respond strongly to even very weak magnetic fields - even a fridge magnet can operate our liquid crystals.
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