Harnessing the unique properties of soft matter
Liquid-crystalline fluids are used in many modern optoelectronic devices, from medical tools to smart phone and computer screens - probably including the display you are reading this on. A related soft matter technology currently being explored by EU-funded researchers could have a broad range of novel industrial and commercial applications.
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The EU-funded DiStruc project is delving into the intriguing properties of soft matter which, unlike most common materials, can be in a state in between a liquid and a solid under certain conditions.
Specifically, the DiStruc researchers are studying fluid dispersions containing elongated colloidal liquid crystals, which are small solid particles suspended in a liquid and capable of rearranging to form crystalline, glassy or gel-like materials.
While conventional liquid-crystalline fluids are widespread in optoelectronic technology, including displays, optical imaging and smart glass, colloidal liquid crystals are only just starting to be developed for commercial uses, promising novel applications in the manufacture of high-performance fibres and other consumer goods, materials and devices.
The goal of DiStruc is to control colloidal liquid crystals at the mesoscopic level, i.e. a scale in-between the macroscopic and atomic. The researchers are developing methods to structure the colloidal particles, studying the interplay between flow and Brownian motion, the process by which particles suspended in a liquid or gas move and rearrange as the result of colliding with fast-moving atoms or molecules.
Innovations will include the development of confinement and flow processes for soft condensed matter, focusing on applications for diverse types of tiny rod-like colloidal particles that can form well-defined structures.
DiStruc, which brings together partners from six European countries, provides 15 early-stage researchers positions at nine host organisations, offering interdisciplinary training covering physics, chemistry, biology, materials and engineering.
The exploration of scientifically novel physical phenomena in the project will help protect Europes leading role in the field of soft condensed matter, while collaboration with industrial partners will also open up avenues for a bottom-up, rational design of industrial processes to exploit the novel commercial opportunities surrounding colloidal liquid crystals.
The European Commissions Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme is supporting DiStruc for a period of four years. This funding was awarded through the innovative training networks (ITN) scheme, which is designed to boost scientific excellence and business innovation.