Liquid crystal molecules form nano rings

Quantised self-assembly enables design of materials with novel properties

At DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III, scientists have investigated an intriguing form of self-assembly in liquid crystals: When the liquid crystals are filled into cylindrical nanopores and heated, their molecules form ordered rings as they cool – a condition that otherwise does not naturally occur in the material. This behavior allows nanomaterials with new optical and electrical properties, as the team led by Patrick Huber from Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) reports in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The scientists had studied a special form of liquid crystals that are composed of disc-shaped molecules called discotic liquid crystals. In these materials, the disk molecules can form high, electrically conductive pillars by themselves, stacking up like coins. The researchers filled discotic liquid crystals in nanopores in a silicate glass. The cylindrical pores had a diameter of only 17 nanometers (millionths of a millimeter) and a depth of 0.36 millimeters.

There, the liquid crystals were heated to around 100 degrees Celsius and then cooled slowly. The initially disorganised disk molecules formed concentric rings arranged like round curved columns. Starting from the edge of the pore, one ring after the other gradually formed with decreasing temperature until at about 70 degrees Celsius the entire cross section of the pore was filled with concentric rings. Upon reheating, the rings gradually disappeared again.

>Read more on the PETRA III at Desy website

Image: Stepwise self-organisation of the cooling liquid crystals. (Extract, see the entire image here)
Credit: A. Zantop/M. Mazza/K. Sentker/P. Huber, Max-Planck Institut für Dynamik und Selbstorganisation/Technische Universität Hamburg; Quantized Self-Assembly of Discotic Rings in a Liquid Crystal Confined in Nanopores, Physical Review Letters, 2018; CC BY 4.