Computational studies on liquid crystals at the small scale by Juan de Pablo and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have revealed unexpected interactions that could lead to entirely new classes of materials. On the smallest of bulk scales it is very difficult to "pattern" materials, explains de Pablo. However, calculations show that liquid crystals can induce spontaneous nanoscale morphologies in materials that have not been seen before. The team modeled rod-shaped liquid crystals packed into nano-sized liquid droplets and found that the confined molecules undergo self-organization as the droplets cool. It was previously known that interfaces affect morphology, this new work suggests that the reverse might also be true. "Now you can think of forming these ordered nanophases, controlling them through droplet size or surfactant concentration, and then decorating them to build up structures and create new classes of materials," says de Pablo.
Size does matter