By: Tim Sluckin
From: University of Southampton, UK
At: Complexo Interdisciplinar, Anfiteatro
This talk gives a light-hearted guide to the history of liquid crystal science from its first hesitating steps in the late 19th century up to the present day. The pioneer of liquid crystal research was the German physicist Otto Lehmann (1855-1922), to whom we owe the term “liquid crystal”. Lehmann saw under the microscope crystals that flowed, and expended considerable intellectual capital in trying to prove that this was so. He identified so strongly with his subject that he thought liquid crystals represented an intermediate state between living and inorganic matter. His professional rival Gustav Tammann (1861-1938) was convinced that the crystals were illusory, referring in print to “so-called liquid crystals”. The ensuing rivalry almost tore German physical chemistry apart. The French crystallographer Georges Friedel (1866-1933) eventually resolved the controversy, also not without blood on the carpet. Liquid crystals are dead; long live the mesomorphic phases! The story continues through the Nobel prizewinners Lars Onsager and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes to the present day. Now it indeed seems that liquid crystals play a major role in living cells, just as Lehmann had predicted.