It has been more than 127 years since Reinitzer reported his discovery of cholesteric materials with the unusual behavior of both liquids and crystals and 50 years since the historic meetings in Ohio at Kent State University, organized by Glen Brown. Since then, the importance of liquid crystals has grown and come to dominate the electronic display market. The importance of the scientific efforts of the researchers in the field was recognized by the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physics to de Gennes in 1991. The technological importance and development has been documented in the numerous patents awarded.
The importance of liquid crystal displays in our computer-driven world cannot be overemphasized, and in a world where portable, visual communications and data systems are nearly everywhere, the term liquid crystal has become part of our everyday vocabulary. It is equally remarkable that what is currently considered as a computer display also had such a presence in fashion with its role in the mood ring of the 1970s and remains popular in current watch displays.
The lifespan of many innovations can be measured in a span of a few years, or sometimes a few decades, but rarely do inventions have the longevity of hundreds of years. Liquid crystals may have had a slow start in moving from the research laboratory to the commercial market and have endured many false starts, but in the area of display technology, the importance of liquid crystals does not appear to be diminishing.
Liquid crystals in current research are showing every sign of moving well beyond display technology and are being used in ever widening areas. It is well appreciated that liquid crystal behavior shows up in cells, making their use in medicine an active research area. Additionally, there are the possibilities that open up by including nanomaterials into the structure of liquid crystals, creating an ever-widening set of potential applications. In this chapter we will outline a few of the potential applications for liquid crystals that are being addressed in research laboratories throughout the world. This will not be an exhaustive evaluation of current research but will provide a flavor of how we can expect liquid crystal technology to evolve in the next decade.
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