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Neutrons—Lighting up liquid crystals

An iridescent droplet of the nanoplate-based liquid crystals Zhengdong Cheng explored with his research team at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source, a DOE Office of Science User Facility. Credit: Mingfeng Chen/Texas A&M University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Topic: Neutron Science

Researchers used neutron scattering at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source to probe the structure of a colorful new material that may pave the way for improved sensors and vivid displays. Most materials, including many biological photonic structures, exhibit structural colors as light moves through long-range periodic arrangements of elements in their microstructure. Yet, this material can produce striking colors using smaller, local arrangements of nanoplates. Thanks to this unique characteristic, researchers used the material to develop fluidic photonic art. “With neutrons, we saw firsthand how these nanoplates interact with light to form such spectacular colors,” said Texas A&M researcher Zhengdong Cheng. “They were the perfect tools for developing an in-depth understanding of this material’s microstructure.” This discovery could be a significant development in the quest for advanced photonic materials. The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. ––Gage Taylor