From cat skin to submarines – new materials that are a bit of a stretch.
Liquid crystals are self-organising fluids that are perhaps best known for their use in displays (LCDs) and much of the research in the area over the past 30 years or so has been focused on achieving faster switching and more complex images in flat panel TVs. However, such technology is now mature and for some time now new, exciting properties of liquid crystals that might lead to rather futuristic applications have been emerging.
This talk concentrates on liquid crystal elastomers – rubbers that are formed from liquid crystal units that have remarkable properties. Suggested applications include artificial irises, self-cleaning surfaces for solar panels and artificial muscles. Thin films of these materials have been shown to lift many times their own weight. We recently discovered a completely new property in liquid crystal elastomers – auxetic behaviour – whereby the material gets thicker when stretched rather than thinner. This is a property shared with cat skin and of potential use in submarines! Our initial understanding and some potential applications are described.