Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ivan I. Smalyukh

Second Advisor

John C. Price

Third Advisor

Noel A. Clark

Fourth Advisor

David M. Walba

Fifth Advisor

Kris A. Bertness


Colloidal systems find important applications ranging from fabrication of photonic crystals to direct probing of phenomena encountered in atomic crystals and glasses; topics of great interest for physicists exploring a broad range of scientific, industrial and biomedical fields. The ability to accurately control particles of mesoscale size in various liquid host media is usually accomplished through optical trapping methods, which suffer limitations intrinsic to trap laser intensity and force generation. Other limitations are due to colloid properties, such as optical absorptivity, and host properties, such as viscosity, opacity and structure. Therefore, alternative and/or novel methods of colloidal manipulation are of utmost importance in order to advance the state of the art in technical applications and fundamental science.

In this thesis, I demonstrate a magnetic-optical holonomic control system to manipulate magnetic and optical colloids in liquid crystals and show that the elastic structure inherent to nematic and cholesteric liquid crystals may be used to assist in tweezing of particles in a manner impossible in other media. Furthermore, I demonstrate the utility of this manipulation in characterizing the structure and microrheology of liquid crystals, and elucidating the energetics and dynamics of colloids interacting with these structures. I also demonstrate the utility of liquid crystal systems as a table top model system to probe topological defects in a manner that may lead to insights into topologically related phenomena in other fields, such as early universe cosmology, sub-atomic and high energy systems, or Skrymionic structures. I explore the interaction of colloid surface anchoring with the structure inherent in cholesteric liquid crystals, and how this affects the periodic dynamics and localization metastability of spherical colloids undergoing a “falling” motion within the sample. These so called “metastable states” cause colloidal dynamics to deviate from Stokes-like behavior at very low Reynolds numbers and is understood by accounting for periodic landscapes of elastic interaction potential between the particle and cholesteric host medium due to surface anchoring.

This work extends our understanding of how colloids interact with liquid crystals and topological defects, and introduces a powerful method of colloidal manipulation with many potential applications.