Scientists Discover New Liquid Phase After 100 Years of Research

Scientists have finally uncovered a new type of liquid phase after looking for it for over a hundred years.
Fabienne Lang

A new phase of matter was put forward around 100 years ago, and ever since, researchers have been looking for it. Now, scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder's Soft Materials Research Center (SMRC) have finally made that discovery. 

Scientists call the discovery a "ferroelectric nematic" phase of liquid crystal, and the study was published on Wednesday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"New universe of materials"

Co-author of the study and a professor in the university's Department of Physics, Matt Glaser, said their discovery "opens a door to a new universe of materials."

After a hundred years, you'd certainly hope so! 

Views of the new phase of liquid crystal, Source: SMRC

Nematic liquid crystals have been a trending topic in the world of materials research since the 1970s. They've been used extensively to make the liquid crystal display (LCD) screens we see on many laptops, TVs, and phones. 

In a traditional nematic liquid crystal, half of its pins point to the left and the other half to the right — these pins are what make up the liquid crystal. 

In contrast, in ferroelectric nematic liquid crystal phase, these pins are much more disciplined as they all point in the same direction. 

More colorful views of the new phase, Source: SMRC

In physics terms, this discovery could open up doors to a huge number of technological innovations: from new display screens to novel computer memory. 

Noel Clark, a professor of physics and director of the SMRC explained "There are 40,000 research papers on nematics, and in almost any one of them you see interesting new possibilities if the nematic had been ferroelectric."

Joe MacLennan, a study co-author and a professor of physics at the University of Colorado Boulder explained how the team reacted once it discovered all pins were pointing in the same direction: "We were stunned by the result."

"This work suggests that there are other ferroelectric fluids hiding in plain sight," Clark said. "It is exciting that right now techniques like artificial intelligence are emerging that will enable an efficient search for them."

Microscopic views of the phase, Source: SMRC
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