A technique to restructure liquid crystals could lead to the development of fast-responding liquid crystals suitable for next-generation displays and advanced photonic applications such as mirrorless lasers, biosensors, and fast/slow light generation. The technique was developed by an international team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan.
The team worked with blue-phase liquid crystals, which typically self-assemble into a cubic photonic-crystal structure. The researchers believed that if the crystals were reconfigured, they could develop properties not present in their cubic form. After nearly two years of experimentation, the researchers found that by applying an intermittent electrical field and allowing the system to relax between applications and dissipate accumulated heat, they could coax the crystals into stable and field-free orthorhombic and tetragonal structures. The team’s approach makes use of the Repetitively Applied Field Technique to gradually transform the initial cubic lattice into various intermediate metastable states, until a stable noncubic crystal is achieved.