This grant provides support for the acquisition and development of a fast confocal polarizing microscope for liquid crystal (LC) materials research and education at Kent State University. The goal of this project is to expand the recently developed technique of three-dimensional (3D) non-destructive imaging of orientational order into the time domain of real-time scanning to study processes at the millisecond time scale with spatial resolution of 1 micrometer. This new microscope will significantly sharpen the insight of researchers and educators into the complex word of molecular arrangements and their collective dynamics in modern materials and is of great fundamental and applied interest. With high speed imaging it will be indispensable in characterization of structure, properties, and performance of new materials such as LC-colloidal and LC-polymer composites, photonic crystals, biosensors, as well as the traditional materials in complex geometries (for example, LCs with 3D director defects). As many of these materials are new and not well studied, the instrument will bring discoveries of fundamental properties. It will be of great help in development of practical devices such as LC displays, beam steering devices and optical switches. Using this microscope in the development of real-time bacterial detection would be a contribution to the safety and health of the public.
The instrument will be installed at the Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI), Kent State University (KSU), a recognized center with well-developed infrastructure combining fundamental and applied research with strong industrial partnership program and with strong educational programs at all levels. Graduate and undergraduate students in physics, chemistry, biology and interdisciplinary programs will benefit, as will undergraduate summer students and K-12 students involved in outreach programs. This new capability will allow the educators to demonstrate the physical essence of fundamental phenomena in modern materials and devices.