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Synthesis and characterisation of new liquid crystals

Project Description

Liquid crystals are often referred to as the fourth state of matter and are perhaps most familiar to us through the ubiquitous liquid crystal displays but are far more common than that. Every time you use soap, you are using a liquid crystal, and cell membranes are also liquid crystalline. Research in Aberdeen focuses on the relationships between molecular structure and liquid crystallinity and involves both the synthesis of new materials and their physical characterisation. Our interests span low molar mass and polymeric liquid crystals.

Research in low molar mas systems involves liquid crystal dimers containing two liquid crystal groups connected by a flexible spacer. These exhibit unique properties including novel intercalated smectic phases and most recently, been shown to exhibit a new type of liquid crystal phase, the twist-bend nematic phase [1-3]. This project will involve the synthesis of new dimers designed to show this fascinating new phase and having exciting application potential [4]. This work also includes the synthesis of supramolecular liquid crystals assembled using hydrogen bonds [5].

In polymers, we have shown recently how to control the organisation of sulfonic acid groups within a liquid crystal polymer [6]. To achieve this, we copolymerise a liquid crystal monomer with a monomer containing sulfonic acid groups, and at a critical concentration see, simultaneously, liquid crystal organisation and the self-assembly of the sulfonic acid groups. A membrane cast from such a material has the potential to exhibit preferred routes for proton conduction. The project will involve the synthesis of the liquid crystal monomer and its copolymerisation with sulfonic acid-based monomers.

The physical characterisation of new materials will include a range of techniques including polarised light microscopy, differential scanning calorimetry, thermal gravimetric analysis coupled with mass spectrometry, temperature dependent Fourier transform infra red spectroscopy, dynamic and thermal mechanical analysis, and X-ray diffraction. The balance between organic synthesis and physical characterisation may be tailored to suit the student’s interests and background.

The successful candidate should have, or expect to have, an Honours Degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in Chemistry.
Essential Background: Chemistry
Knowledge of: Organic and physical chemistry

Funding Notes

To qualify for Elphinstone funding you MUST have a First Class Degree or equivalent OR a 2.1 Honours Degree or Equivalent, PLUS MSc at Commendation/Distinction level in a relevant subject. Please note Elphinstone funding pays tuition fees only.


Borshch V, Kim YK, Xiang J, Gao M, Jakli A, Panov VP, Vij JK, Imrie CT, Tamba MG, Mehl GH, Lavrentovich OD. Nematic twist-bend phase with nanoscale modulation of molecular orientation. Nature Communications. 2013;4.
[2] Paterson DA, Xiang J, Singh G, Walker R, Agra-Kooijman DM, Martinez-Felipe A, Gan M, Storey JMD, Kumar S, Lavrentovich OD, Imrie CT. Reversible Isothermal Twist-Bend Nematic-Nematic Phase Transition Driven by the Photoisomerization of an Azobenzene-Based Nonsymmetric Liquid Crystal Dinner. Journal of the American Chemical Society. 2016;138(16):5283-5289.
[3] Paterson DA, Gao M, Kim YK, Jamali A, Finley KL, Robles-Hernandez B, Diez-Berart S, Salud J, de la Fuente MR, Timimi BA, Zimmermann H, Greco C, Ferrarini A, Storey JMD, Lopez DO, Lavrentovich OD, Luckhurst GR, Imrie CT. Understanding the twist-bend nematic phase: the characterisation of 1-(4-cyanobiphenyl-4 '-yloxy)-6-(4-cyanobiphenyl-4 '-yl)hexane (CB6OCB) and comparison with CB7CB. Soft Matter. 2016;12(32):6827-6840.
[4] Xiang J, Li Y, Li Q, Paterson DA, Storey JMD, Imrie CT, Lavrentovich OD. Electrically Tunable Selective Reflection of Light from Ultraviolet to Visible and Infrared by Heliconical Cholesterics. Advanced Materials. 2015;27(19):3014-3018.
[5] Jansze SM, Martinez-Felipe A, Storey JMD, Marcelis ATM, Imrie CT. A Twist-Bend Nematic Phase Driven by Hydrogen Bonding. Angewandte Chemie-International Edition. 2015;54(2):643-646.
[6] Martinez-Felipe A, Lu Z, Henderson PA, Picken SJ, Norder B, Imrie CT, Ribes-Greus A. Synthesis and characterisation of side chain liquid crystal copolymers containing sulfonic acid groups. Polymer. 2012;53(13):2604-2612.

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of the discipline of Chemistry. Formal applications can be completed online: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply. You should apply for PhD in Chemistry, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct College for processing. NOTE CLEARLY THE NAME OF THE SUPERVISOR, EXACT PROJECT TITLE AND INDICATE YOU WISH TO BE CONSIDERED FOR ELPHINSTONE FUNDING ON THE APPLICATION FORM. Applicants are limited to applying for a maximum of 2 projects. Any further applications received will be automatically withdrawn.

Informal inquiries can be made to Professor Imrie ([email protected]) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Graduate School Admissions Unit ([email protected]).

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