Towards tunable defect arrangements in smectic liquid crystal shells utilizing the nematic-smectic transition in hybrid-aligned geometries
Journal article, 2012
We produce and investigate liquid crystal shells with hybrid alignment-planar at one boundary, homeotropic at the other-undergoing a transition between the nematic (N) and smectic-A (SmA) phases. The shells display a dynamic sequence of patterns, the details depending on the alignment agents and on the diameter and thickness of the shell. In shells of sufficient diameter we typically find a transient striped texture near the N-SmA transition, stabilising into a pattern of tiled, more or less regularly spaced focal conic domains in the SmA phase. The domain size and spacing decrease with reduced shell thickness. In case of strong homeotropic anchoring at one boundary and small shell size, however, the increased curvature favors homeotropic against planar alignment in the smectic phase, and the shell then tends to adapt to complete homeotropic alignment at the final stage of the transition. This is the first study of hybrid-aligned smectic shells and the results constitute a beautiful demonstration of the capacity for dynamic structure formation and reformation via self-assembly in soft matter. The new patterns extend the range of arrays of topological defects that can be realised with liquid crystals in spherical morphology and the correlation between the feature arrangements and the variable parameters of the shell and its environment opens a route towards tunability. However, the observed strong impact from increasing curvature, even for these rather large shells, indicates that the choice of alignment agents inducing planar or homeotropic alignment with varying strength will become critical when targeting the most attractive colloidal size scale of about a micron or smaller.