Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Ivan I. Smalyukh

Second Advisor

Jao van de Lagemaat

Third Advisor

Noel A. Clark

Fourth Advisor

Rafael Piestun

Fifth Advisor

Wounjhang Park


As a result of their intrinsic orientational order, soft elasticity, and facile response to external stimuli, liquid crystals (LCs) provide a rich environment for both fundamental science and viable technological applications. In this thesis I explore the emergent properties of confinement-frustrated chiral nematic LCs and nanoparticle-LC composites. Due to a complex free energy landscape, con- fined LCs exhibit a large number of local and global energy minima and can facilitate self-assembly of many types of topological solitons. These localized configurations of molecular orientation field are useful for technological applications, have properties that are enhanced by colloidal inclusions and enable the fundamental studies of nanoparticle interactions. Experimental and numerical ex- ploration of these topologically nontrivial solitons may influence the experimental realization of their analogs in physical systems ranging from elementary particles to cosmology.

The delicate interplay of topology, chirality and confinement of LCs can enable spontaneous or optical vortex initiated self-assembly of solitons. In turn, the optical generation and patterning of reconfigurable LC solitons can enable the production of optical vortices in laser beams, demon- strating hierarchical control of defects in matter and light with potential technological applications. The elasticity and facile response of LCs to applied fields facilitates the self-assembly of crystals and chains of solitons, giant electrostriction, as well as electrically driven nonequilibrium dynamics in the form of reversible directional motion of stable defect pairs. Concepts of chirality and topo- logical invariants, such as Hopf index and Skyrmion number, are invoked to examine and classify a variety of spatial solitons, including Skyrmions, Hopfions, and torons, as well as to analyze the role of chirality and the unexpected observation of twist handedness reversal that enables soliton stability.

By introducing colloidal particles to the confined chiral LCs, we probe how new composite material properties can emerge spontaneously or be pre-designed and then probed by combining the facile response of the LC host and the unique properties of nanoparticles. This allows us to achieve polar ferromagnetic response in chiral ferromagnetic LC colloids as well as to probe plasmon- exciton interactions through controlling metal and semiconductor quantum dot nanoparticles within topological defects.