Glycerol droplets at a nematic-liquid-crystal–air interface form two different lattices—hexagonal and dense quasihexagonal—which are separated by the energy barrier and can coexist. Director distortions around each droplet form an elastic dipole. The first order transition between the two lattices is driven by a reduction of the dipole-dipole repulsion through reorientation of these dipoles. The elastic-capillary attraction is essential for the both lattices. The effect has a many-body origin.
Ordered Droplet Structures at the Liquid Crystal Surface and Elastic-Capillary Colloidal Interactions09/10/2004
We demonstrate a variety of ordered patterns, including hexagonal structures and chains, formed by colloidal particles (droplets) at the free surface of a nematic liquid crystal (LC). The surface placement introduces a new type of particle interaction as compared to particles entirely in the LC bulk. Namely, director deformations caused by the particles lead to distortions of the interface and thus to capillary attraction. The elastic-capillary coupling is strong enough to remain relevant even at the micron-scale when its buoyancy-capillary counterpart becomes irrelevant.