LCI workshop unites scientific communities

Tim Jacobs

The Liquid Crystal Institute is holding a workshop on ferroelectric phenomena and elastomers in liquid crystals until tomorrow.

Among those attending the eight-day workshop are internationally known scientists and researchers who specialize in either mathematics or chemical physics.

Antal Jakli, co-chair of the workshop and professor of chemical physics, said the workshop includes students and professors from England, Italy, Germany, Hungary and the Ukraine, as well as Asian students studying in the U.S.

“It’s not a huge workshop, but it’s a very diverse group,” said Eugene Gartland, co-chair of the workshop and professor in the department of mathematical sciences.

Paolo Biscari, workshop lecturer from Milan, Italy, said he was drawn to this workshop by the international prestige of the LCI laboratory.

“I am here for the two-week conference,” Biscari said. “I am a theoretical physicist and we are trying to understand why and how liquid crystals form some strange shapes, like fibers.”

“The LCI is definitely the number one laboratory in liquid crystal science in all of the world,” Biscari added.

Liquid crystals and elastomers

Gartland explained liquid crystals are materials with properties of both solid and liquid matter that control the properties of light either passing through or being reflected off of a liquid crystal cell.

Jakli stressed that liquid crystals do not emit light. Rather, they change it when different light sources and electrical fields are applied.

Ferroelectric liquid crystals are able to change their displays much faster than ones used in current LCD technology.

“They are much faster,” Jakli said. “They can switch about a thousand times faster than the current LCD technology.”

Dan Phillips, professor of mathematics at Purdue University and a member of the scientific organization committee for the workshop, said that elastomers are “elastic or rubber-like material” with liquid crystals embedded in them.

“If you (apply) an electric field of voltage across them, they change shape,” Phillips said.

He added they often change shape like muscles in the human body do, either expanding or contracting, and the hope in studying elastomers is the production of artificial muscles.

Collaboration on crystals

Gartland said this is the second of three collaborations between Kent State, Purdue University and the University of Minnesota. It is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Jakli said the workshop isn’t just intended to be a series of lectures, it also serves to bring together two scientific communities that don’t work together often.

“It has an educational aspect and a research aspect, and that is to bring people together from somewhat specialized areas (from the physics and mathematics communities) and bounce ideas off of each other,” Jakli said. “Every morning there is a two-hour orientation lecture, but each day there are at least two one-hour research talks.”

Research talks are when people can discuss their most recent results, experiments and analysis.

“It’s good to have a mixed audience firing these questions at you when you’re giving a research talk,” Jakli said.

Gartland agreed that much of the workshop’s aim is the interdisciplinary aspect.

“A lot of graduate students in the mathematics areas would strictly go to mathematical workshops, and in general might not get much exposure to the other sciences,” Gartland said. “Here, we can really bring them more face-to-face with scientists who are really paving the way in these research areas, and I think that it’s a good enriching thing for their background.”

Phillips said the workshop so far was an “illuminating experience.”

“As mathematicians, we don’t get to see the (chemical physics) labs much,” he said.

Lena Lopatina, a Kent State graduate student in theoretical physics, said she is happy with the collaborative result between the two scientific communities.

“I think (the workshop) is great,” Lopatina said. “Because I do theoretical physics, I’m sort of between those people who do some experiments and those people who do pure mathematics. As I said in my talk, I had a huge equation that should be understandable for mathematicians, and then I had a nice picture of what physicists will see under the microscope.”

“It makes it understandable for both sides, so I feel like I’m helpful here,” she added.

For more information on the LCI and the ferroelectrics workshop, visit the LCI’s Web site at

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Tim Jacobs at [email protected]. Jacobs.