KSU researchers find new liquid crystal

Carolyn Pippin

A Kent State research group recently reported a new type of liquid crystal, one with a spiral twist, that has never been seen before.

Oleg Lavrentovich, Trustees Research Professor of chemical physics, and three graduate students, Volodymyr Borshch, Young Ki Kim and Jie Xiang, made up the research group that found the “twist-bend nematic” liquid crystal.

The molecules in a normal liquid crystal are pointing in the same direction but “in the new one they are bent and twisted,” Lavrentovich said.

This liquid is a completely new material, “like a new species,” he said.

The new type of structure opens up new opportunities.

“There are new degrees of freedom to control their optical appearance, and it makes us optimistic about the future,” Lavrentovich said.

Liquid crystals allow people to carry information around. They are “enabled in iPods, cellphones, TV sets and display devices that are everywhere,” Lavrentovich said.

To get a better understanding of what liquid crystals are, “if you put a finger to a laptop screen and push a little bit the screen flows,” he said. “That is the liquid crystal.”

The $15.2 million Ohio Third Frontier grant funded the research. With that money, the research group bought a Cryo-Transmission Electron Microscope, which cost around $2 million, according to a news release from Kent State from Nov. 6.

The microscope made it possible to see the liquid crystal at a nanoscale level.

The group finished researching sometime in June, but the findings were published Nov. 5, Lavrentovich said.

A lot of time was spent researching liquid crystals. “It is really a 24/7 process” and the graduate students dedicated their Saturdays and Sundays to the project as well, Lavrentovich said.

“It’s a very competitive world and you cannot make anything of meaningful significance without any hard work,” he said.

The Kent State research group also benefited from international collaboration from Ireland and the United Kingdom, Lavrentovich said. Ireland provided materials, and the UK synthesized the molecules, according to a news release from Kent State from Nov. 6.

Lavrentovich, who was also a former director of the Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent State, has studied liquid crystals for the past 33 years.

“They are fascinating materials with intriguing and mysterious properties,” he said.

Contact Carolyn Pippin at [email protected].