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Colloidal and Defect Knots in Liquid Crystals (January 2014)

Since Lord Kelvin's early models of atoms, the idea of tying a physical field into a knot has long fascinated scientists, but this is a much more subtle affair than tying one's shoelaces, since the entire space-filling field, such as an electric or magnetic field, would have to conform to the knot. Following nearly two centuries of speculation on how knotted physical fields might behave, technological advances are finally enabling the pursuit of knotted structures in the laboratory. Center investigator Ivan Smalyukh and his students A. Martinez, B. Lucero, and R. Visvanathan, together with collaborators from the University of Ljubljana, have explored the realization of knots in the molecular alignment field of liquid crystals, unusual materials that are best known for their use in information displays. The authors propose that knotted fields in liquid crystals could lead to technological advances enabling fabrication of artificial composite materials with entirely new unusual properties and many practical applications in consumer devices. Although the scientific challenges ahead are likely to be knotty, the prospects of realizing such materials with knotted structures and unusual properties are enticing.

topological colloid

This work was published in "Mutually tangled colloidal knots and induced defect loops in nematic fields," A. Martinez, M. Ravnik, B. Lucero, R. Visvanathan, S. Žumer, and I. I. Smalyukh, Nature Materials 13, 258 (2014).

Read the News & Views article.

Liquid Crystals enable Experimental Glimpses of the Inner Workings of Topological Theorems (January 2013)

From subatomic particles to molecular biology and early-Universe cosmology, many phenomena arise from the topological interaction of fields, surfaces, and monopole or string defects. This multi-scale interplay is constrained by theorems from topology but is hard to see experimentally. SMRC researchers Bohdan Senyuk and Ivan Smalyukh, collaborating with scientists at UPenn, UMass, and Zhejiang University, have demonstrated that liquid crystals can enable experimental visualization of the inner workings of topological theorems. The accompanying image shows a polarized-light optical micrograph that depicts the interaction between the surface topology of handlebody colloidal microparticles and the topological defects in the molecular alignment field of the surrounding liquid crystal. Natural colors in the image reveal spatial variations of the molecular alignment. The points where brushes of different colors intersect are topological monopoles. Counting charges of the monopoles induced by handlebodies reveals the nontrivial ways the Gauss-Bonnet and Poincaré-Hopf index theorems are obeyed.

topological colloid

These findings lay the groundwork for new applications, ranging from new types of self-assembly to experimental studies of low-dimensional topology, with important potential ramifications for many branches of science and technology .

This work has been published online in
B. Senyuk, Q. Liu, S. He, R. D. Kamien, R. B. Kusner, T. C. Lubensky, and I. I. Smalyukh, Nature (2012).
Read the press release.

Center announces Frontiers of Soft Matter Symposium 2012 (November 2011)

The Frontiers of Soft Matter 2012 symposium will be held in celebration of Noel Clark's 70th birthday. This three-day meeting, which will take place on the beautiful campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder from 16-18 May, 2012, will highlight some of the most exciting experimental and theoretical research in soft matter science today, with invited plenary lectures from leading researchers in the US and abroad and contributed poster sessions for all symposium participants (11/11).
Visit the symposium website.

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Center Investigator wins Presidential Early Career Award (November 2010)

SMRC investigator Ivan Smalyukh became one of only 100 men and women in the United States to be awarded a coveted 2010 NSF Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, or PECASE. The PECASE awards, announced by President Barack Obama, are the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent careers. Smalyukh is a faculty member in the Physics Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His

scientific interests encompass different branches of soft condensed matter and optical physics, including novel laser trapping and imaging techniques, molecular and colloidal self-assembly, and the fundamental properties and applications of liquid crystals, polymers, nano-structured and other functional materials.
Read more in the press release.

Center announces Boulder Workshop on
Liquid Crystal Organic Photovoltaics (May 2010)

The Center will team up with colleagues at the Renewable Energy MRSEC at the Colorado School of Mines to host the workshop “Directing Nanoscale Organization in Organic Photovoltaics: Liquid Crystals for Renewable Energy (LCOPV 2010),” from 7-9 August, 2010. The purpose of the workshop is to stimulate interactions between the liquid crystal and broader organic self-assembly communities, and the molecular electronics and organic photovoltaics communities.
Read more on the workshop website.

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