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Templating Nanomaterials from Defects in Liquid Crystals

Defects in liquid crystals can function as nanoscopic molds for assembling molecules

Defects are imperfections in materials.  If present in materials such as a liquid crystal (LC) used in a computer display, they ruin the performance of the device. Researchers from the Wisconsin MRSEC, however, have found that the nanoscopic environments created by defects in LCs can be exploited to direct molecules to assemble into materials that have exotic shapes and properties. For example, defects in LCs that form around spherical particles can take on the shape of a “Saturn-ring”, and thus serve as a virtual nanoscopic mold that directs molecules to spontaneously assemble into molecular “o-rings” with cross-sections of a few molecular lengths. Because many other types of defects can be engineered to form in LCs, the work shows that LC defects offer the basis of a broad and versatile new class of three-dimensional, dynamic and reconfigurable templates that can direct processes of molecular self-assembly, with broad applications in fields as diverse as nanoelectronics and nanomedicines.