Colloids at liquid crystal interfaces
Pawsey, Anne Claire
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This thesis presents a study of colloidal particles dispersed in thermotropic liquid crystals. It has a specific focus on colloids in the presence of an interface between the liquid crystal and an isotropic fluid. Three systems are studied: colloids trapped at a planar interface between a cholesteric liquid crystal (CLC) and an isotropic oil, nematic emulsions with interfacial colloids and the influence of colloids on the phase transition kinetics of the cholesteric blue phase. Experiments are carried out using polarising optical and confocal microscopy. By combining these techniques, the director field of the liquid crystals could be imaged in combination with precise observation of the colloid locations. Custom image analysis algorithms are developed to extract the information. In the first system, we create an interface between a cholesteric liquid crystal and an isotropic liquid. Homeotropic anchoring leads to a well aligned cholesteric layer and the formation of the fingerprint texture. Fluorescent colloidal particles with planar surface anchoring are dispersed in the CLC. A majority of these particles decorate the interface. The final distribution of particles perpendicular to the interface has a clear dependence on the particle size. In the plane of the interface, surface defects form a template for the colloids. The second system is a particle dispersion within a short pitch CLC which exhibits a blue phase. The colloidal particles and associated defects act as nucleation sites for the blue phase in the cholesteric to blue phase transition. Colloidal particles cause localised melting from the blue phase to the isotropic phase and lead to a larger temperature range for coexistence between isotropic and blue phases. Furthermore, the isotropic regions can be faceted, their shape and size is controlled by the blue phase elasticity. In the final system, a nematic emulsion is created. Droplets of nematic LC are dispersed in water. Colloidal particles initially mixed into the liquid crystal decorate the interface between the two fluids. The addition of a surfactant switches the liquid crystal alignment at the fluid-fluid interface from planar to homeotropic. This forces a change in defect structure, from two boojums at the poles to a hedgehog defect in the droplet centre. The presence of colloids affects the switching dynamics and alters the final liquid crystal alignment preventing the droplets from forming a central radial defect. There is a symbiotic relationship between the particle properties - size and anchoring at the surface - and the elastic properties of the liquid crystal in the bulk and in the presence of an interface with an isotropic fluid. How the systems respond when the balance of these factors is altered is explored throughout the thesis.