Liquid Crystals: the fourth state of matter and today’s flat-screen displays

Poster for Prof. David Dunmur

Poster for Prof. David Dunmur

The September talk will be given by Prof. David Dunmur, visiting professor at the University of Manchester in the Liquid Crystal Group and co-author of Soap, Science and Flatscreen TVs (with Tim Sluckin).

Although liquid crystals were discovered 125 years ago, they might have been forgotten as a scientific backwater had not a little known Russian aristocratic scientist, Vsevolod Frederiks, revealed their potential as optical switches. This phenomenon, now known as the Frederiks effect, ultimately resulted in the huge flat screen liquid crystal display industry of today, but Frederiks did not live to see the fruits of his researches: he perished in one of Stalin’s gulags in 1943.

The early years of liquid crystal research were marked by controversy, as many contemporary scientists refused to accept their existence. Despite this, in the first decades of the twentieth century the basic physics and chemistry of liquid crystals became established, principally by scientists from mainland Europe. These scientists did not escape the ravages of the socio-political upheavals of the turbulent times, but most survived, although some suffered persecution, exile or death. The science of liquid crystals was brought to the English-speaking scientific community in 1933 by Sir William Bragg, Director of the Royal Institution, though few were impressed.

This talk will present the history of the discovery and development of liquid crystals, as well as explaining in simple terms their unusual scientific properties and how they might be further exploited in the future.