Undulations of Lamellar Liquid Crystals in Cells with Finite Surface Anchoring Near and Well Above the Threshold07/31/2006
We study the undulations instability, also known as the Helfrich-Hurault or layers buckling effect, in a cholesteric liquid crystal confined between two parallel plates and caused by an electric field applied along the normal to layers. The cholesteric pitch is much smaller than the cell thickness but sufficiently large for optical study. The three-dimensional patterns of the undulating layers in the bulk and at the surfaces of the cells are determined by fluorescence confocal polarizing microscopy. We demonstrate that the finite surface anchoring at the bounding plates plays a crucial role in the system behavior both near and well above the undulations threshold. The displacement of the layers immediately above the undulation threshold is much larger than the value expected from the theories that assume an infinitely strong surface anchoring. We describe the experimentally observed features by taking into account the finite surface anchoring at the bounding plates and using Lubensky-de Gennes coarse-grained elastic theory of cholesteric liquid crystals. Fitting the data allows us to determine the polar anchoring coefficient W-p and shows that W-p varies strongly with the type of substrates. As the applied field increases well above the threshold value E-c, the layers profile changes from sinusoidal to the sawtooth one. The periodicity of distortions increases through propagation of edge dislocations in the square lattice of the undulations pattern. At E approximate to 1.9E(c) a phenomenon is observed: the two-dimensional square lattice of undulations transforms into the one-dimensional periodic stripes. The stripes are formed by two sublattices of defect walls of parabolic shape. The main reason for the structure is again the finite surface anchoring, as the superposition of parabolic walls allows the layers to combine a significant tilt in the bulk of the cell with practically unperturbed orientation of layers near the bounding plates.