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Liquid Crystal Formation from Reversibly Self-Assembled Aggregates

Many soft-matter and biophysical systems are composed of molecules that reversibly self-assemble into rod-like aggregates. The aggregates can then order into liquid-crystal phases, which promotes increased stability and functionality of molecules. Systems that display coupled aggregation and liquid-crystal ordering include soap micelles, cell membranes, DNA and RNA, and protein polymers and fibrils. Center simulations and theory have developed models of stacking discs that capture the key features of coupled aggregation and liquid-crystal ordering. The image shows a snapshot of such a system, where discs with sticky faces, unable to form a liquid crystal phase on their own, stack into columns to form an oriented nematic liquid crystal.