A New Order of Liquids: Polar and Orientationally Modulated Soft Materials

We deal with polar molecules every day of our lives. Water, H2O, is a familiar example. In a condensed phase, such as liquid water, we don’t “see” this molecular polarity because the individual dipole moments are typically randomly oriented with respect to each another and effectively cancel out. This is case for all liquids and fluid-phases of matter.

However, I discovered a new fluid phase of matter which is an exception to this rule; the constituent molecular dipole moments spontaneously align parallel, they sum rather than cancel out, and so the bulk material is itself polar.

The polarity generates ferroelectric polarisation, the magnitude of which rivals is of a comparable magnitude to solid-state materials, and so we call this new phase of matter a ferroelectric nematic phase (Nf).

Combining fluidity and ferroelectricity opens the door to a number of possible applications not possible with existing materials (such as sensors, actuators, energy harvesting etc.).

This project will unlock understanding about how molecular structure dictates the formation of the Nf phase, as well as delivering a new generation of materials that enable transformative science and ultimately applications.