Kent State University chemical physics graduate student Andrii Varanytsia demonstrates laser
emission with a liquid crystal elastomer in Professor Peter Palffy-Muhoray’s lab at the
Liquid Crystal and Materials Sciences Building on the university’s Kent Campus.
(December 22, 2015) Liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), essentially rubbers with liquid crystal properties, can do a number of fascinating things, especially in the fields of optics, photonics, telecommunications and medicine. They can curl up, bend, twist, wrinkle and stretch when exposed to light, heat, gases and other stimuli. Because they are so responsive, they are ideal for applications like artificial muscles and blood vessels, actuators, sensors, plastic motors and drug delivery systems. They can even be used as a mechanically tunable mirrorless “rubber” laser.
In the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State University, Peter Palffy-Muhoray, Ph.D., associate director of the Glenn H. Brown Liquid Crystal Institute® and professor of chemical physics, has been collaborating with the world’s experts in liquid crystal elastomers research for many years. Recently, he and his graduate assistant, Andrii Varanytsia, and Kenji Urayama and Hama Nagai from the Kyoto Institute of Technology in Japan developed the first type of cholesteric liquid crystal elastomers with special properties that enable it to precisely emit laser light, without the use of mirrors, while being stretched.
Lasers consist of cavities, typically formed by fixed mirrors. Light bouncing between these has a characteristic frequency, just like a guitar string of a certain length. Light-emitting material in the cavity amplifies the light wave, which is then emitted at a precise frequency – like a pure tone from some musical instrument.
A liquid crystal elastomer is used as a mechanically tunable mirrorless “rubber” laser in the lab of
Peter Palffy-Muhoray, Ph.D., associate director of the Glenn H. Brown Liquid Crystal Institute and
professor of chemical physics at Kent State University. The elastomer has properties that enable it to
precisely emit laser light, without the use of mirrors, while being stretched.
In 2001, Palffy-Muhoray, Bahman Taheri, Ph.D., and several other colleagues were the first to demonstrate that they could use liquid crystals to bounce laser light back and forth inside the material, without the need for any external mirrors. However, accurate control of the laser emission frequency was not possible then.
Their recent work, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and Japan Society of Promotion of Science, was published on Nature.com on Dec. 4 in an article titled “Tunable Lasing in Cholesteric Liquid Crystal Elastomers With Accurate Measurement of Strain.”