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Joe Martel

G1 - Engineering Sciences

Foci - Fluid mechanics, Biofluids


Final Project: Cholesteric Liquid Crystal Shear Response




To understand a little bit more about the dynamics of liquid crystals and their response to shear stress in different known configurations: liquid crystal coating and partially exposed polymer dispersed liquid crystals (PEPDLCs).

Liquid Crystals (LCs)

Most people know the three main phases of materials: solid, liquid and gaseous. However, things are a little more complicated upon a more detailed inspection. For some materials as they melt (go from solid or crystalline phase to a liquid phase) they undergo more than a single transition in properties. These intermediate phases are known as liquid crystals where the material exhibits certain crystal-like properties and liquid like properties. This can be described by the way liquid crystals order themselves.

Crystalline structures are characterized by a rigid three dimensional structure where the molecules or atoms are relatively fixed with respect to one another. In contrast, an isotropic liquid has no such structure. Molecules and atoms in this phase move freely past each other and bounce into one another. So in between these two phases one would expect some kind of order and some kind of disorder. DeGennes and Prost (1993, p.1-2) define the three known liquid crystal phases in a convenient manner:

Nematic liquid crystals are anisotropic liquids in that their density changes differently in perpendicular directions.

An important section of this phase is the chiral nematic phase whose adjacent layers are on a slight angle with each other. (a.k.a. cholesteric LCs)

Smectic liquid crystals have one dimensional order in three dimensions.

Columnar liquid crystals have two dimensional order in three dimensions.

This is a most basic definition. More information is available on this wiki as well.Phase_transitions_in_liquid_crystals

Liquid crystals are know to respond to many stimuli including light, electrical, magnetic, thermal and most relevant to this report shear stress.

Shear Response

In the case of chiral nematic liquid crystals over their different layers they form sort of helical shapes. When a shear is applied to these they deform and untwist slightly. This untwisting changes coupled with a property called birefringence (having two distinct indicies of refraction) can cause changes in incident light which can be measured as a color or intensity change.

Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystals (PDLCs)

Definition: Polymer dispersed liquid crystals are liquid crystal droplets (of varying shapes and sizes) distributed in a solid polymer matrix. The goal of this material is to contain the liquid crystals (LCs) in discrete domains. Since LCs are a liquid they can and do flow which is a potential which is detrimental for certain technologies. For example, liquid crystal display (computer monitor or television); If the LCs move within the display the picture would not be very consistent.

However, Introducing a polymer matrix creates many challenges in understanding the dynamics of the LCs and their response to different stimuli including the following:

  1. Creating uniform droplets throughout matrix
  2. Curved surfaces of polymer matrix interacting with LCs
  3. Flow of LCs through polymer matrix depending on local structure and proximity of droplets
  4. Getting all droplets to have a uniform alignment

Most PDLCs are made with two generalized methods

  1. Emulsion methods: LCs dispersed as droplets into polymer solution then applied to a surface and the solvent evaporates.
  2. Phase separation methods: LCs mixed with organic solvent with polymers in it then induced to separate from solvent.

In some cases, including for shear stress measurement it is desirable to have liquid crystals exposed at the surface of the PDLC membrane. These are called partially exposed polymer dispersed liquid crystals or PEPDLCs.

Partially Exposed Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystals (PEPDLCs)

These materials are a subset of PDLCs where the pores or droplets of liquid crystals are found to be exposed at the surface of the membrane or film which leads to more complicated interactions.

Droplet Size and Shape

Interfacial Interactions

Background on Shear response?

Surface attachment



Size and shape differences of droplets of polymer dispersed liquid crystals that are knife-bladed onto a surface versus sprayed.

Shear response dependence on pore size and shape - Some sort of scaling?

Pore dynamics versus flat surface under shear stress, stresses at boundaries of pores

How do cholesteric liquid crystals attach to a glass surface?

Why is polystyrene used in PEPDLC? -Material interactions -interfacial/adhesion forces

Keep track of forces and length scales -bulk vs. boundaries