Scientists Have Found a New Liquid Phase After 100 Years of Searching

A liquid phase initially proposed in the 1910s has lastly been realised. Working with a liquid crystal compound, researchers have identified a new “ferroelectric nematic” phase that could open up up an whole new class of materials and technological developments.


There are quite a few phases of liquid crystal, but a person of the most popular is the nematic phase. This is the phase that allows liquid crystal display technological innovation, so you can in all probability realize why researchers are intrigued in it.

This sort of phases are outlined by how the molecules behave inside the product. The liquid crystal compound is designed up of rod-like natural molecules with positively and negatively billed finishes, somewhat like definitely very small bar magnets.

In a nematic phase, these molecules are divided with fifty percent pointing a person way, and the other fifty percent pointing the other, arranged much more or less at random.

But in the 1910s, two physicists – Peter Debye and Max Born – proposed a diverse situation for the molecular arrangement.

According to their two papers – revealed in 1912 and 1916, respectively – it should really be attainable to design a liquid crystal in these a way that the molecules slide into a condition of polar order: This signifies there should really be very clear patches wherever the poles of the molecules are all oriented in the identical route, and this route can be flipped by applying exterior electrical fields.


This sort of a property is well documented in sound crystals it truly is recognised as ferroelectricity – so named since of its similarity to ferromagnetism. But, though the identical ferroelectric behaviour experienced been hypothesised in nematic liquid crystal, it has remained elusive.

Then, in 2017, a staff of physicists uncovered they experienced produced a new rod-shaped natural molecule that could be practical for liquid crystal – the compound RM734. In subsequent scientific studies, RM734 displayed some unusual behaviours.

In distinct, when RM734 behaved like a traditional nematic liquid crystal phase at better temperatures, its behaviour was much more unusual when temperatures were being reduced – the molecular orientation was noticed deforming in a “splay” arrangement.

This is wherever the new analysis comes in – physicists at the College of Colorado, Boulder were being intrigued by this unusual behaviour, and went in for a closer seem.

They were being mucking about with RM734 below a polarised gentle microscope, and utilized a weak electrical field to test to induce the splay nematic phase.

That splay arrangement did not arise, but anything else did: patches of shiny colours about the edges of the mobile made up of the RM734 liquid crystal.

“It was like connecting a gentle bulb to voltage to exam it but acquiring the socket and hookup wires glowing much much more brightly instead,” said physicist Noel Clark of UC Boulder.

(Chen et al., PNAS, 2020)

More assessments uncovered that this phase of RM734 was in between 100 and 1,000 instances much more responsive to exterior electrical fields than other nematic liquid crystals, suggesting that the molecules reveal polar order.

And, when cooled from better temperatures, purchased patches appeared spontaneously in the sample, with almost all the molecules in every single patch pointing in the identical route.


“That confirmed that this phase was, in fact, a ferroelectric nematic fluid,” Clark reported.

They are still not sure how or why RM734 shows this ferroelectric nematic phase, but its existence indicates that much more ferroelectric fluids could be attainable – ones we are but to find out. This, in change, could open up doors to new nematic physics and new technological innovation, which include display technological innovation and, the researchers reported, computer memory.

The staff is now investigating how RM734 can reveal ferroelectricity, hoping to expose further more aspects on this discovery. Who knows wherever this will guide?

“There are 40,000 analysis papers on nematics, and in nearly any a person of them you see attention-grabbing new choices if the nematic experienced been ferroelectric,” Clark reported.

The analysis has been revealed in PNAS.