Rare footage of real liquid crystals (no CGI!) by Ben Outram
Audio – “Music of the Tides” by Max Cooper, Out now on Balance 030 - smarturl.it/Balance030MaxCooper
Video edit by Jennifer Tividad
Video grading by Myles Bevan
What you see may look like computer generated imagery, but it’s actually real lab footage of liquid crystals under a microscope, warping in structure and bending light to create these beautiful scenes of nature in action. The footage was taken by researcher Ben Outram at Oxford and Leeds Universities, and has been edited by Jennifer Tividad into this music video, set to a new track of mine just released on my Balance 030 compilation.
No need for me to give further explanation, as we have it from the expert, Ben Outram!
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Early researchers in liquid crystals thought that liquid crystals might be some form of life. In fact, liquid crystals lie somewhere between chemistry and biology. They are phases of matter that are simultaneously fluid and structured. Their colours and iridescence have been the wonder of those who have researched them, and they continue to surprise us with their flowing forms.
The first liquid crystals were identified in biological materials, for example in the membranes of brain neurons. Life is a complicated organisation of liquid and solid components, but how does it self organise? Liquids are not organised enough, and crystals are too rigid. The answer lies in liquid crystal science. Every part of your body that has organisation has, or once had, liquid crystal properties. Liquid crystal membranes of cells are able to hold their shape, divide, heal, and transport in and out the molecules they need to survive, regulate, communicate and function. Unlike normal liquids, the structure of liquid crystals allows them to switch between different states, even encode information, while remaining adaptable, fluid, and sensitive to changes in their chemical and physical environment.
Liquid crystal displays have become ubiquitous, with more displays than people in the world, many times over, representing a multi-billion dollar industry. But their role in biology is still only thinly understood. When we look to the future of technology, we can aim at the very least to replicate the function and complexity of life, and to this, we will do well to unravel more of the mystery, from the mechanical properties of the webs of spiders to the colourful iridescence of beetles and butterflies. Spiders and silkworm contain pouches of liquid crystals from which they produce their silk. The resultant fibre, engineered at the molecular level, is stronger than steel. The spider can alter the chemical and physical properties of the silk to account for differences in temperature, humidity, or web function. A truly astonishing creature. Kevlar, a synthetic fibre that is used in knife-proof vests, owes its invention to the study of spider's silk, as it too starts in a liquid crystal phase. Scientists now are trying to genetically engineer goats to produce the spider silk proteins in their milk, in order to create new and stronger fibres. Further, the photonic properties of some types of liquid crystal produces the iridescence in some beetles and butterflies. Scientists have reverse engineered the optical properties of such systems for everything from producing iridescent liquids and colour-changing mood rings to heat-reflecting transparent insulation and electronic billboards.
In this video, we see some of the flowing forms and transitions that liquid crystals undergo as they flow and undergo transitions between phases.
This video is part of a larger work of photography that will be incorporated into a forthcoming book on liquid crystals. Photography will also be available as prints to order from my Etsy shop. To learn more, please follow my website at BenjaminOutram.com
Special thanks to Professor Helen Gleeson and her colleagues at the University of Leeds, and Professor's Steve Elston and Stephen Morris at the University of Oxford, without which the work would not have been possible.
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