Liquid Crystals--Transformer That Meets the Eye.


Liquid crystal describes a material that shares properties of both a liquid and a solid crystal. This duality of consistency occurs because the material contains charged molecules whose dynamic “electrical bonds” produce changes in structure (liquid-like or crystal-like) dependent on the background electrical field and the contained thermal energy (temperature). Perhaps the best known example of a liquid crystal material is the membrane of cells in our body. While serving as an effective cell boundary, the constituent molecules can easily intermingle, flip from one side of the membrane to the other, and host freely floating proteins such as receptors. Liquid crystals have distinct optical properties. It is actually these properties that led to the first description of liquid crystals by the Austrian botanical physiologist Friedrich Reinitzerin in 1888. While studying different derivatives of cholesterol, Reinitzer noticed that some of these derivatives had two distinct melting points: first melting into a cloudy liquid and then melting into a clear fluid. When viewed under a microscope, the cloudy material exhibited a typical crystalline structure and texture. Due to the liquid properties of the material, individual molecules composing a liquid crystal can easily rotate and move. Because they also have dipole properties, they can be affected by an electrical Editor’s Note: If you have future menu suggestions, please e-mail the journal at Bon Appétit!


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