Summer Science Exhibition

Liquid crystals: living cells and flat screen TVs

Coexistence region between a true crystal (left) and a nematic liquid crystal (right)

A number of UK research groups are studying liquid crystals to develop new materials and also new ideas for future liquid crystal applications.

Liquid crystals are the key component of LCDs (liquid crystal displays) familiar in many IT devices, from mobile phones to flat-screen TVs.  They flow like liquids but transmit light and stretch like crystals.  Discovered in 1888, and for long seen as curiosities, their properties can now be controlled and applied.  Yet few people understand how the devices work or the potential liquid crystals have for creating new products.

 “Liquid crystals have the potential to create new materials with novel properties for advanced applications well beyond today’s LCD TVs.  Our research stretches from the most fundamental to the immediately applicable,” says Professor Tim Sluckin, School of Mathematics, University of Southampton.

Visitors to the exhibit will see many different aspects of liquid crystals. They will see the inner workings of LCDs, temperature sensing foils, and amazing liquid crystal polymers. There will even be iridescent beetles, who rely on liquid crystals for their dramatic appearance. Visitors will be able to experience the variety of liquid crystal properties through hands-on experiments and interactive computer simulations.

Exhibited by University of Southampton; University of Manchester; Sheffield Hallam University

Exhibition video

Find out more about liquid crystals - Alison Cooper interviews exhibitor Professor Doug Cleaver.

Exhibitor's latest blog

After the Convocation, the main event is upon us.
By Doug Cleaver | Friday 25th June, 2:35pm

Well, the big Convocation event was quite a blast really.

The formal ceremony in the main Concert Hall was as calm and serene as the elegant silvered flying creatures that looped and dived their way aroungd the auditorium. The exhibition, on the other hand, was hot, loud, lively and very enjoyable.

We were highly honoured - ours was the first stand to be visited by Her Majesty. We only learnt this was to be the case an hour or so before it happened, and we nominated David Dunmur to be our spokesman. He busied himself preparing a list of points to make in his "big 3 minutes" while Ingo Dierking and I went upstairs to find our seats for The Convocation.

We were on the 6th floor and so rushed down at the end in the knowledge that the Royal Party had quite a start on us. We hadn't missed anything (fortunately) and so had time to set up all of our screens properly (and check how the football was going)

When Her entrouage did arrive, along wth a phalanx of photographers, there was a big scrum and, while I could see that David was talking well, I've no idea what he said in the end. Then word came through that the England match was over - we briefly replaced the LC science on one of our LCD screens with the BBC web page and so were able to break the good news to the Royal Party. One of the photographers even thought it was worth taking a snap of the Final Score: England 1 - Slovenia 0!

My personal Big Moment came shortly after The Queen had moved on to another stand - I spotted the new Universities Minister, David Willetts and managed to engage him in a short conversation. I kept to positive points - I suspect he got plenty of grief from others present, though, given the budget cuts that were announced this week.

After that, there was a continual stream of Fellows and guests - all of them seemed to be very interested in what I had to say (hardly anyone cut me short, even though I had lots of points to make). My badge just had my name on - no indication that I'm a Prof at Sheffield Hallam - so it was interesting to see how people reacted to my pitch. Someone thought I was in sales and another suggested I should go on the telly .... they needed some convincing them I was just another academic scraping around for research grants.

I was surprised at how many people I recognised and was very pleased to meet one particular FRS and his wife who have been near neighbours of my parents since before I was born.

It was very hot - I shed my jacket pretty early on and, when I did spot a chance to go and top up on refreshments, I went for a big cup of water rather than a refill of bubbly. Time rushed by though - there was always someone new to talk to - and I was surprised when the Festival Hall staff started encouraging us to wind things up as 8 o'clock approached

We bumped into another presenting group once we got outside and agreed to go for a bite to eat together. We shared experiences over beer and burgers and slowly came down and cooled down together.

This afternoon, things will change gear as we move to a new type of audience - the general public!

The Guardian Science Blog has an item in it today on a survey which concludes that scientists should talk to the public more: .
It says "On the evidence of this survey, this scepticism can only be reduced if more scientists, in particular those in academia, make a greater effort to communicate their work to the general public". Perhaps The Guardian would consider letting the general public know that there are 27 stands-worth of scientists doing exctly that in London for the next week and a half!

View all 'Liquid crystals: living cells and flat screen TVs' blog posts

The Exhibition is located in the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, and takes place from Friday 25 June to Sunday 4 July 2010. Open Friday 25 June 6pm - 8.30pm, then daily 10am - 8.30pm. Entrance is free. For groups larger than 12 people, please contact us to book.