A variable optical attenuator (VOA) at λ=1.55 μm using a sheared polymer network liquid crystal (SPNLC) is demonstrated. SPNLC is fabricated by mixing ~15 wt % photo-polymerizable monomer in a LC host. To polymerize the SPNLC cell, a two-step UV curing process was adopted. Before shearing, the cell scatters light strongly, but after shearing the cell becomes highly transparent in the near IR region. Using an E7-based SPNLC, the attenuation of our VOA is rather insensitive to wavelength over the ITU C-band. The rise time and decay time were measured to be 35 μs and 205 μs, respectively, at room temperature. Such a response time is at least one order magnitude faster than the state-of-the-art nematic competitors. Comparing with other polymer-stabilized liquid crystals, the SPNLC exhibits a lower driving voltage and negligible light scattering loss in the IR spectral region. A reflection type, polarization-independent VOA with ~240 μs response time and -32 dB dynamic range was demonstrated at room temperature and 35 V<sub>rms</sub> voltage.
Inhomogeneous nanoscale polymer-dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) devices having gradient nanoscale droplet distribution were fabricated. This gradient refractive index nanoscale (GRIN) PDLC film was obtained by exposing the LC/ monomer with a uniform ultraviolet (UV) light through a patterned photomask. The monomer and LC were mixed at 70: 30 wt% ratio. The area exposed to a weaker UV intensity would produce a larger droplet size, and vice versa. Owing to the nanoscale LC droplets involved, the GRIN PDLC devices are highly transparent in the whole visible region. The gradient refractive index profile can be used as switchable prism gratings, Fresnel lens, and positive and negative lenses with tunable focal lengths. Such a GRIN PDLC device is a broadband device and independent of light polarization. The diffraction efficiency of the lens is controllable by the applied voltage. The major advantages of the GRIN PDLC devices are in simple fabrication process, polarization-independent, and fast switching speed, although the required driving voltage is higher than 100 V<sub>rms</sub>. To lower the driving voltage, the technique of polymer-networked liquid crystal (PNLC) has been developed. The PNLC was also produced by exposing the LC/monomer mixture with a uniform UV light through a patterned photomask. However, the monomer concentration in PNLC is only around 2-5 wt%. The formed PNLC structure exhibits a gradient polymer network distribution. The LC in the regions stabilized by a higher polymer concentration exhibits a higher threshold voltage. By using this technique, prism grating, tunable electronic lens and Fresnel lens have been demonstrated. The driving voltage is around 10 V<sub>rms</sub>. A drawback of this kind of device is polarization dependence. To overcome the polarization dependence, stacking two orthogonal homogeneous PNLC lens is considered.
Side chain effects on phase transition temperatures, birefringence and viscosity of four series of isothiocyanato tolane liquid crystals are investigated. In the alkyl and alkoxy isothiocyanato tolane families, short chain helps suppress smectic phase, enhance birefringence and reduce rotational viscosity. In the alkoxy difluoro and cyclohexane isothiocyanato tolane derivatives, the short chain homologues exhibit an enantiotropic nematic phase. These compounds are particularly attractive for forming eutectic mixtures.