The universities of Oxford (UK) and Utrecht (the Netherlands) have made a new discovery in their research into liquid crystals that may help to create far better and sharper LCD displays in the future. Both universities announced this last Friday in the academic magazine Science.

This revolves around the development of so-called banana-shaped ‘nematic liquid crystals’ (LCs), whereby the term nematic denotes the process of going from a solid to a liquid form.

Electric fields

It is well known that crystals in liquid form react readily to certain external impulses such as electric fields. This is what makes them so well-suited to televisions and computers. The molecules that form the liquid crystals are generally elongated in shape. They are simple rod-shaped molecules that have a total of five liquid crystalline phases, yet now it appears that more than fifty phases are possible when using banana-shaped molecules.

Subscribe to IO on Telegram!

Want to be inspired 365 days per year? Here’s the opportunity. We offer you one "origin of innovation" a day in a compact Telegram message. Seven days a week, delivered around 8 p.m. CET. Straight from our newsroom. Subscribe here, it's free!

Bananas in the ‘splay-bend nematic’ phase. Photo: Utrecht University

These ‘banana phases’ have been known to science for a while already, although up until now, no one knew exactly how the banana particles organize themselves and move around. This is because the crystalline particles are extremely small and move very fast. The researchers from Oxford and Utrecht have now cracked that puzzle. They were the first to succeed in studying, visualizing, and analyzing the intrinsic details of banana-shaped liquid crystals by using single-particle resolution.

With the help of image analysis techniques, the researchers were able to determine the position and orientation of the banana-shaped particles, which enabled them to identify a series of separate banana phases. Moreover, these colloidal bananas provide experimental proof of the existence of the so-called ‘splay-bend nematic’ liquid crystalline phase, which had been predicted forty years ago but had not been demonstrated until now.

Support us!

Innovation Origins is an independent news platform that has an unconventional revenue model. We are sponsored by companies that support our mission: to spread the story of innovation. Read more.

At Innovation Origins, you can always read our articles for free. We want to keep it that way. Have you enjoyed our articles so much that you want support our mission? Then use the button below:


Personal Info

About the author

Author profile picture Maurits Kuypers graduated as a macroeconomist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international work. He has been active as a journalist since 1997, first for 10 years on the editorial staff of Het Financieele Dagblad in Amsterdam, then as a freelance correspondent in Berlin and Central Europe. When it comes to technological innovations, he always has an eye for the financial feasibility of a project.