This presentation will address recent advances in several areas of research involving the interfacial ordering of liquid crystals (LCs). The first advance revolves around the ordering of LCs at bio/chemically functionalized surfaces. Whereas the majority of past studies of surface-induced ordering of LCs have involved surfaces of solids that present a limited diversity of chemical functional groups (surfaces at which van der Waals forces dominate surface-induced ordering), recent studies have moved to investigate the ordering of LCs on chemically complex surfaces. For example, surfaces decorated with biomolecules (e.g. oligopeptides and proteins) and transition metal ions have been investigated, leading to an understanding of the roles that metal-ligand coordination interactions, electrical double-layers, acid-base interactions, and hydrogen bonding can have on the interfacial ordering of LCs. The opportunity to create chemically-responsive LCs capable of undergoing ordering transitions in the presence of targeted molecular events (e.g., ligand exchange around a metal center) has emerged from these fundamental studies.
The second area of research to be addressed in this presentation is focused on investigations of the ordering of LCs at interfaces with immiscible isotropic fluids, particularly water. In contrast to prior studies of surface-induced ordering of LCs on solid surfaces, LC-aqueous interfaces are deformable and molecules at these interfaces exhibit high levels of mobility and thus can reorganize in response to changes in interfacial environment. A range of fundamental investigations involving these LC-aqueous interfaces have revealed that (i) the spatial and temporal characteristics of assemblies formed from biomolecular interactions can be reported by surface-driven ordering transitions in the LCs, (ii) the interfacial phase behaviour of molecules and colloids can be coupled to (and manipulated via) the ordering (and nematic elasticity) of LCs, and (iii) confinement of LCs leads to unanticipated size-dependent ordering (particularly in the context of LC emulsion droplets).
The third advance to be discussed involves interactions between colloids mediated by LCs. Recent experiments involving microparticles deposited at the LC-aqueous interface have revealed that LC-mediated interactions can drive interfacial assemblies of particles through reversible ordering transitions (e.g., from one-dimensional chains to two-dimensional arrays with local hexagonal symmetry). In addition, single nanoparticle measurements suggest that the ordering of LCs about nanoparticles differs substantially from micrometer-sized particles and that the interactions between nanoparticles mediated by the LCs are far weaker than predicted by theory (sufficiently weak that the interactions are reversible and thus enable self-assembly). Finally, LC-mediated interactions between colloidal particles have also been shown to lead to the formation of colloid-in-LC gels that possess mechanical properties relevant to the design of materials to interface with living biological systems.
Overall, the three areas of research summarized above will be used to illustrate the broad opportunities that exist to do fundamental interfacial science and discovery-oriented research involving LCs.