CORDIS - EU research results

'Living' Colloidal Liquid Crystals

Project description

Merging soft matter fields may lead to micromachines with minds of their own

Water melts directly from solid crystalline ice into liquid water. Some materials exhibit an intermediate phase. The molecules of these so-called liquid crystals self-organise in ways that their orientation resists certain deformations despite 'flowing'. This ordering is relevant to concepts from biological membrane organisation to liquid crystal displays for consumer products. Liquid crystal colloids are an exciting integration of liquid crystals and colloids; here colloidal particles are dispersed in a liquid crystal medium unlike conventional liquids. Self-assembly in such systems can lead to emergent physical behaviours akin to those of biological systems. The EU-funded [LC]2 project plans to harness these properties to drive the self-assembly of active nematics – biomimetic, autonomously motile, liquid crystal colloidal mini-machines.


We propose an unprecedented class of soft, self-assembled and self-motile micro-machines. The combined qualities of active fluids and colloidal liquid crystals can be leveraged to design intrinsically out-of- equilibrium hierarchal structures, or ‘Living’ Colloidal Liquid Crystals [LC]2. The study of colloidal interactions and self-assembly in active nematics has yet to be considered and constitutes an unexplored and inter-disciplinary application of the emerging sciences of active matter and colloidal liquid crystals. Activity will endow dynamical multi-scale colloidal structures with autonomous functionality, including self-motility, self-revolution and dynamical self-transformations, which are exactly the characteristics one would desire for a first generation of autonomous components of micro-biomechanical systems and soft micro-machines. As hybrids between biological active fluids and man-made materials, [LC]2 structures represent an early foray into ‘living’ metamaterials, in which active self-assembly of simple components produces a rich diversity of behaviours and the potential for autonomously tunable material properties, mimicking biological complexity. In particular, we hypothesize self-assembled [LC]2 dimer turbines, colloidal flagella and ant-like group retrieval. These systems represent a fundamentally innovative concept that we propose to drive nanotechnology into a new future of soft materials that biomimetically self-assemble and autonomously enact functions. It is our multiscale coarse-grained simulations and expertise in flowing active nematic fluids that generates the opportunity for this unique line of research.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 358 083,65
EH8 9YL Edinburgh
United Kingdom

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Scotland Eastern Scotland Edinburgh
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 358 083,65

Beneficiaries (2)