Magnetic Liquid Crystal Opens Opportunities in Telecommunications

Ljubljana, 19 November - Scientists at the Jožef Stefan Institute have managed to create a magnetic liquid crystal, a feat that their colleagues around the world had been attempting in vain for over four decades. The extraordinary achievement is expected to open many new opportunities in the future, including in telecommunications.

The theoretical basis for creating magnetic liquid crystals was provided in 1970 by Nobel laureate Pierre-Gilles de Gennes and his colleague Francoise Brochard. The proposed in a paper that a liquid crystal be mixed with tiny magnetic particles that would then affect the characteristics of the liquid crystal.

But scientists failed for decades to put their idea into practice; the particles either did not align themselves correctly or formed clusters.

Slovenian scientists managed to avoid these issues by using special flat magnetic nanoparticles they had developed themselves. The discovery, which is entirely the result of Slovenian research work, was reported in the acclaimed British magazine Nature in December last year.

It is bringing a number of opportunities, as magnetic liquid crystals differ from regular crystals in that they are not sensitive only to electricity but also to magnetic fields.

As noted by researcher Alenka Mertelj, the discovery will allow the creation of new generations of optical devices that are steered by weak magnetic fields instead of electric current. Opportunities are also opening in the field of telecommunication and further research is already planned at the Jožef Stefan Institute here.

But a long road is still ahead to commercial use.

"If scientists in the 1970s had been asked about the future use of liquid crystals, they would have probably not told you they would practically replace existing screens with cathode ray tubes in 40 years," Mertelj said.

The paper published in Nature was also signed by Darja Lisjak, Miha Drofenik and Martin Čopič.