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Temperature-Driven Anchoring Transitions at Liquid Crystal/Water Interfaces

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journal contribution
posted on 05.08.2020 by Guillaume Durey, Yoko Ishii, Teresa Lopez-Leon
Controlling the anchoring of liquid crystal molecules at an interface with a water solution influences the entire organization of the underlying liquid crystal phase, which is crucial for many applications. The simplest way to stabilize such interfaces is by fabricating liquid crystal droplets in water; however, a greater sensitivity to interfacial effects can be achieved using liquid crystal shells, that is, spherical films of liquid crystal suspended in water. Anchoring transitions on those systems are traditionally triggered by the adsorption of surfactant molecules onto the interface, which is neither an instantaneous nor a reversible process. In this study, we report the ability to change the anchoring of 4-cyano-4′-pentylbiphenyl (5CB), one of the most widely used liquid crystals, at the interface with dilute water solutions of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), a polymer commonly used for stabilizing liquid crystal shells, simply by controlling the temperature in the close vicinity of the liquid crystal clearing point. A quasi-static increase in temperature triggers an instantaneous reorientation of the molecules from parallel to perpendicular to the interfaces, owing to the local disordering effect of PVA on 5CB, prior to the phase transition of the bulk 5CB. We study this anchoring transition on both flat suspended films and spherical shells of liquid crystals. Switching anchoring entails a series of structural transformations involving the formation of transient structures in which topological defects are stabilized. The type of defect structure depends on the topology of the film. This method has the ability to influence both interfaces of the film nearly at the same time and can be applied to transform an initially polydisperse group of nematic shells into a monodisperse population of bivalent shells.