skip to main content

Title: Electrically driven three-dimensional solitary waves as director bullets in nematic liquid crystals

Electric field-induced collective reorientation of nematic molecules is of importance for fundamental science and practical applications. This reorientation is either homogeneous over the area of electrodes, as in displays, or periodically modulated, as in electroconvection. The question is whether spatially localized three-dimensional solitary waves of molecular reorientation could be created. Here we demonstrate that the electric field can produce particle-like propagating solitary waves representing self-trapped “bullets” of oscillating molecular director. These director bullets lack fore-aft symmetry and move with very high speed perpendicularly to the electric field and to the initial alignment direction. The bullets are true solitons that preserve spatially confined shapes and survive collisions. The solitons are topologically equivalent to the uniform state and have no static analogs, thus exhibiting a particle–wave duality. Their shape, speed, and interactions depend strongly on the material parameters, which opens the door for a broad range of future studies.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1729509 1507637
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Nature Publishing Group
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Production of stable multidimensional solitary waves is a grand challenge in modern science. Steering their propagation is an even harder problem. Here we demonstrate three-dimensional solitary waves in a nematic, trajectories of which can be steered by the electric field in a plane perpendicular to the field. The steering does not modify the properties of the background that remains uniform. These localized waves, called director bullets, are topologically unprotected multidimensional solitons of (3 + 2)D type that show fore-aft and right-left asymmetry with respect to the background molecular director; the symmetry is controlled by the field. Besides adding a whole dimension to the propagation direction and enabling controlled steering, the solitons can lead to applications such as targeted delivery of information and micro-cargo.

    more » « less
  2. We show that surface interactions can vectorially structure the three-dimensional polarization field of a ferroelectric fluid. The contact between a ferroelectric nematic liquid crystal and a surface with in-plane polarity generates a preferred in-plane orientation of the polarization field at that interface. This is a route to the formation of fluid or glassy monodomains of high polarization without the need for electric field poling. For example, unidirectional buffing of polyimide films on planar surfaces to give quadrupolar in-plane anisotropy also induces macroscopic in-plane polar order at the surfaces, enabling the formation of a variety of azimuthal polar director structures in the cell interior, including uniform and twisted states. In a π-twist cell, obtained with antiparallel, unidirectional buffing on opposing surfaces, we demonstrate three distinct modes of ferroelectric nematic electro-optic response: intrinsic, viscosity-limited, field-induced molecular reorientation; field-induced motion of domain walls separating twisted states of opposite chirality; and propagation of polarization reorientation solitons from the cell plates to the cell center upon field reversal. Chirally doped ferroelectric nematics in antiparallel-rubbed cells produce Grandjean textures of helical twist that can be unwound via field-induced polar surface reorientation transitions. Fields required are in the 3-V/mm range, indicating an in-plane polar anchoring energy of w P ∼3 × 10 −3 J/m 2 . 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Dispersing inorganic colloidal nanoparticles within nematic liquid crystals provides a versatile platform both for forming new soft matter phases and for predefining physical behavior through mesoscale molecular‐colloidal self‐organization. However, owing to formation of particle‐induced singular defects and complex elasticity‐mediated interactions, this approach has been implemented mainly just for colloidal nanorods and nanoplatelets, limiting its potential technological utility. Here, orientationally ordered nematic colloidal dispersions are reported of pentagonal gold bipyramids that exhibit narrow but controlled polarization‐dependent surface plasmon resonance spectra and facile electric switching. Bipyramids tend to orient with their C5rotation symmetry axes along the nematic director, exhibiting spatially homogeneous density within aligned samples. Topological solitons, like heliknotons, allow for spatial reorganization of these nanoparticles according to elastic free energy density within their micrometer‐scale structures. With the nanoparticle orientations slaved to the nematic director and being switched by low voltages ≈1 V within a fraction of a second, these plasmonic composite materials are of interest for technological uses like color filters and plasmonic polarizers, as well as may lead to the development of unusual nematic phases, like pentatic liquid crystals.

    more » « less
  4. One objective of active matter science is to unveil principles by which chaotic microscale dynamics could be transformed into useful work. A nematic liquid crystal environment offers a number of possibilities, one of which is a directional motion of an active droplet filled with an aqueous dispersion of swimming bacteria. In this work, using the responsiveness of the nematic to the electric field and light, we demonstrate how to control the direction and speed of active droplets. The dielectric response of nematic to the electric field causes two effects: 1) reorientation of the overall director, and 2) changing the symmetry of the director configuration around the droplet. The first effect redirects the propulsion direction while the second one changes the speed. A laser beam pointed to the vicinity of the droplet can trigger the desired director symmetry around the droplet, by switching between dipolar and quadrupolar configurations, thus affecting the motility and polarity of propulsion. The dynamic tuning of the direction and speed of active droplets represents a step forward in the development of controllable microswimmers. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Arising in many branches of physics, Hopf solitons are three-dimensional particle-like field distortions with nontrivial topology described by the Hopf map. Despite their recent discovery in colloids and liquid crystals, the requirement of applied fields or confinement for stability impedes their utility in technological applications. Here we demonstrate stable Hopf solitons in a liquid crystal material without these requirements as a result of enhanced stability by tuning anisotropy of parameters that describe energetic costs of different gradient components in the molecular alignment field. Nevertheless, electric fields allow for inter-transformation of Hopf solitons between different geometric embodiments, as well as for their three-dimensional hopping-like dynamics in response to electric pulses. Numerical modelling reproduces both the equilibrium structure and topology-preserving out-of-equilibrium evolution of the soliton during switching and motions. Our findings may enable myriads of solitonic condensed matter phases and active matter systems, as well as their technological applications.

    more » « less