Electrostatically controlled surface boundary conditions in nematic liquid crystals and colloids

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Science Advances  20 Sep 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 9, eaax4257
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax4257


Differing from isotropic fluids, liquid crystals exhibit highly anisotropic interactions with surfaces, which define boundary conditions for the alignment of constituent rod-like molecules at interfaces with colloidal inclusions and confining substrates. We show that surface alignment of the nematic molecules can be controlled by harnessing the competing aligning effects of surface functionalization and electric field arising from surface charging and bulk counterions. The control of ionic content in the bulk and at surfaces allows for tuning orientations of shape-anisotropic particles like platelets within an aligned nematic host and for changing the orientation of director relative to confining substrates. The ensuing anisotropic elastic and electrostatic interactions enable colloidal crystals with reconfigurable symmetries and orientations of inclusions.

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