Liquid Crystal Institute brings the world’s best to Kent State

Justin Armburger

To many people, Kent State is known for May 4, 1970, black squirrels and being Drew Carey’s alma mater. Internationally, however, it’s known as the world’s leading academic research institute for liquid crystalline materials.

At the Glenn H. Brown Liquid Crystal Institute, scientists from all over the world come to research liquid crystals, as well as ways to incorporate their uses into people’s daily lives.

“It is the only program dedicated to the study of liquid crystals,” said Jim Maxwell, public relations coordinator for the institute. “Over 40 companies from all over the world meet with faculty and use our facilities for prototyping.”

Companies such as Samsung use the facilities to build prototypes for things such as LCD televisions and monitors.

Established in 1965 under the direction of Glenn H. Brown, the institute has been home to many great discoveries involving the use of liquid crystals. According to its Web site, liquid crystals were first discovered in the late 1800s and quickly became a hot topic in the scientific field. By the 1940s, however, scientists believed they had done all they could with the crystals.

It wasn’t until 1958, when Brown published an article in Chemical Reviews, that liquid crystal research once again interested scientists.

“Brown is considered as someone who reintroduced liquid crystals to be studied,” Maxwell said.

The first major invention that can be accredited to the Liquid Crystal Institute came just two years after its opening. According to its Web site, in 1967 James Ferguson developed the twisted nematic liquid crystal display. His invention is found in the screens of digital watches, calculators, parking meters, laptops, Global Positioning Systems and many other electronic devices.

In 1983, scientists at the institution invented polymer dispersed liquid crystals, which are used today in switchable windows. By surrounding liquid crystal droplets in a chemical mixture between two pieces of conducting glass, a clear window can become opaque with the flip of a switch.

While there have already been numerous breakthroughs involving liquid crystal technology, many feel there are plenty more to come. One major development is the biodetector. When a suspicious substance, such as Anthrax, is found, it must be sent to a lab to be correctly classified – a process that can take days.

Biodetectors, however, can determine if the substance is harmful within an hour.

“If you were to place Anthrax in a mixture of liquid crystals and shine a light on it, you would see imperfections that would indicate if it is, in fact, Anthrax,” Maxwell said.

The institute has many staff faculty members and graduate students.

“This year we accepted eight students from around the world,” said Maxwell. “One is from Ohio State University, and the others are from Ukraine, China, Venezuela and Brazil.”

Clinton Braganza, a graduate student and Ph.D. candidate, is currently working on making small capacitors to store energy in devices. Through the graduate program at the institute, graduate students such as Braganza receive a $20,000 stipend as well as a full tuition waiver.

“It is kind of a job, but the goal here is to eventually become an independent researcher,” Braganza said.

Contact sciences reporter Justin Armburger at [email protected].