Nontechnical Abstract: Ferroelectric nematics are fluids of essentially rod-shaped molecules that spontaneously organize into domains with macroscopic polar order. The recent discovery of this liquid crystal phase has created an opportunity to probe and understand the appearance of spontaneous polarization in a broad range of soft materials, including polymers, biomaterials, liquid crystals and colloids. The polar nature of the ferroelectric nematic makes it attractive for a host of novel applications, including electrooptical and non-linear optical devices, and will lead to new discoveries in the science and applications of nematic liquid crystals. This project offers excellent opportunities for undergraduate research participation and internships for minority high school students.

Technical Abstract

The ferroelectric nematic (FN) is a new and essentially unexplored fluid state that occurs below the conventional nematic phase of liquid crystals, combining orientational order and spontaneous polarization for the first time in any homogeneous three-dimensional fluid. The estimated FN polarization density is larger than many solid state ferroelectrics, its magnitude implying almost perfect polar alignment of the nematic molecular dipoles. Because of their large spontaneous polarization, FN materials give a facile, rapid orientational response to applied electric fields, giving virtually every nematic effect and application a new dimension. A broad-based, coordinated effort of molecular design, synthesis, and physical characterization will be pursued to characterize the ferroelectric nematic state and to evolve an understanding of its nanoscale origins, emergent mesoscopic properties, and potential applications. Experimental methods including electro-optic studies, x-ray scattering, optical and SHG microscopy, and dielectric spectroscopy will be used to characterize FN molecular organization, macroscopic structure, and field response dynamics. Continuum modeling will be developed to describe a new regime of nematic elasto-hydrodynamics where polarization space charge stabilization becomes a dominant player.

This Division of Materials Research (DMR) grant supports research to understand ferroelectric nematic liquid crystals with funding from the Condensed Matter Physics (CMP) program in DMR of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
Application #
Program Officer
Elizabeth Mann
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Colorado at Boulder
United States
Zip Code