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  1. null (Ed.)
    Spatially-varying director fields have become an important part of research and development in liquid crystals. Characterization of the anchoring strength associated with a spatially-varying director is difficult, since the methods developed for a uniform alignment are seldom applicable. Here we characterize the strength of azimuthal surface anchoring produced by the photoalignment technique based on plasmonic metamsaks. The measurements used photopatterned arrays of topological point defects of strength +1 and −1 in thin layers of a nematic liquid crystal. The integer-strength defects split into pairs of half-integer defects with lower elastic energy. The separation distance between the split pair is limited by the azimuthal surface anchoring, which allows one to determine the strength of the latter. The strength of the azimuthal anchoring is proportional to the UV exposure time during the photoalignment of the azobenzene layer. 
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  2. Eukaryotic cells in living tissues form dynamic patterns with spatially varying orientational order that affects important physiological processes such as apoptosis and cell migration. The challenge is how to impart a predesigned map of orientational order onto a growing tissue. Here, we demonstrate an approach to produce cell monolayers of human dermal fibroblasts with predesigned orientational patterns and topological defects using a photoaligned liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) that swells anisotropically in an aqueous medium. The patterns inscribed into the LCE are replicated by the tissue monolayer and cause a strong spatial variation of cells phenotype, their surface density, and number density fluctuations. Unbinding dynamics of defect pairs intrinsic to active matter is suppressed by anisotropic surface anchoring allowing the estimation of the elastic characteristics of the tissues. The demonstrated patterned LCE approach has potential to control the collective behavior of cells in living tissues, cell differentiation, and tissue morphogenesis. 
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  3. 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.

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