Chilean discovery lays the foundations for the creation of clothes and plastics with super properties

24-06-21 Hugo Arellano comments

The scientific breakthrough was led by researchers from the Physics Department of the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the University of Chile and the Millennium Institute for Research in Optics MIRO. The work was published in the latest issue of the journal Physical Review Research.

Completely waterproof windbreakers, shirts that do not stain the underarm area, mega-resistant and ultra-light parka, are some of the items that could benefit from a technology developed by Chilean scientists. “We work with liquid crystals, the same ones that are in the screens of cell phones and high-tech televisions. What few people know is that they are the essential basis for forming polymers, a type of plastic, the same ones that make up many of the fabrics of the clothes we wear every day,” explains Gregorio Gonzalez, a Ph.D. student in science with a mention in physics at the University of Chile.

Once upon a time there was light…and the light was made

“Our work proved that liquid crystals, when they undergo a transition to a conventional liquid, are capable of generating very special shapes that we call “fingers” (until before our experiment these were only formed with changes in temperature). These shapes appear after throwing a ray of light into this solution – where we added dyes. This caused the crystal to grow these structures, with a relevant texture and where we could control the number and size of them,” adds Gregorio Gonzalez. 

“The phenomenon is much more than an intellectual delicacy, we are facing a challenging situation that opens a window of possibilities, we talk about controlling and managing the properties of these polymers (plastics), being able to give them different characteristics”, explains Marcel Clerc, academic of the Department of Physics FCFM and Deputy Director of the Millennium Institute for Research in Optics MIRO.

Liquid crystals with dyes are well known and have been studied since the 1980s to control the properties of light. However, most of these studies have never focused on investigating the shapes these materials take when they interact with light. “Our team has been a pioneer in the study of the shapes that liquid crystals acquire when interacting with light, so much so that with this work we achieved the first-ever observation of light-piloted control of finger growth in liquid crystals,” says Gonzalez.

Science and fashion?  

Some fabrics such as nylon (of which many jackets and T-shirts are made) or Kevlar (which is what bulletproof vests are made of) grow from liquid crystal, “if we develop new ways of growing these plastics, these and other fabrics could be endowed with characteristics such as greater durability, permeability, lightness or a combination of them. This is just starting, we hope to advance scientifically and who knows… if the high fashion industry becomes interested in these advances, we will not only have created something spectacular but also completely fashionable”, concludes Marcel Clerc, who is also a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Nice (France).  

The results are products of a systematic work that began in 2014, in the LAFER Laboratory of the Department of Physics FCFM of the University of Chile, the particular result of this research was obtained using the technique of polarized light microscopy using green laser light with 2W power.

To see the original article published in the journal Physical Review Research of the American Physical Society (APS), check the following link https://journals.aps.org/prresearch/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevResearch.3.L022027

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