The study of liquid crystals occupies a central place in materials science, serving as a context for encountering and using a variety of exotic structural themes of molecular organization, particularly of soft matter. A key feature of molecular ordering in liquid crystals is fluid hierarchical self assembly, in which molecular structure provides precise control of fluid self-organization over a wide range of length scales.
Animals are capable of performing an amazing set of actions. In many species, particularly invertebrates (although scarily also humans), a large percentage of the behavioral repertoire is comprised of stereotyped behaviors—actions that are seen again and again across time and individuals. I will discuss our recent work trying to uncover how these behaviors are actuated and controlled in the wiggling nematode worm C. elegans and the dancing fruit fly D. melanogaster.
Liquid crystal elastomers combine the orientational order of liquid crystals with the elasticity of polymers. Remarkably, these materials flex and deform under stimuli such as a change of temperature, and undergo autonomous folding, or "auto-origami," into complex shapes. The material's liquid crystal director field defines the local axis of extension/contraction, and can be patterned, or "blueprinted," to induce a programmed shape transformation. Incorporation of photoactive azobenzene makes these materials move in response to illumination.