Liquid Crystal Films

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Smectic liquid crystals can form extremely thin films, similar to a soap bubble, that are sensitive to electrically-induced convection. Here an annular smectic film lies between two electrodes. When a voltage is applied across it, positive and negative charges build up on the surface of the film near their respective electrodes. The electrical field surrounding the fluid pushes on the surface charges, causing flow inside the film. Above a threshold voltage, an instability forms and the film develops into a series of counter-rotating vortices, which spin faster as the voltage increases. The color variations in the video above are due to differences in the film’s thickness, much like iridescence of a soap bubble. (Video credit: P. Kruse and S. Morris)

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