What are Liquid Crystals?
The distinguishing characteristic of the liquid crystalline state is the tendency of the molecules (mesogens) to point along a common axis, called the director. This is in contrast to molecules in the liquid phase, which have no intrinsic order. In the solid state, molecules are highly ordered and have little translational freedom. The characteristic orientational order of the liquid crystal state is between the traditional solid and liquid phases and this is the origin of the term mesogenic state, used synonymously with liquid crystal state. Note the average alignment of the molecules for each phase in the following diagram.
Determination of Liquid Crystal state:
Characterizing Liquid Crystals:
Liquid crystals are anisotropic materials, and the physical properties of the system vary with the average alignment with the director. If the alignment is large, the material is very anisotropic. Similarly, if the alignment is small, the material is almost isotropic. The phase transition of a nematic liquid crystal is demonstrated in the following movie provided by Dr. Mary Neubert, LCI-KSU. The nematic phase is seen as the marbled texture. Watch as the temperature of the material is raised, causing a transition to the black, isotropic liquid.
A special class of nematic liquid crystals is called chiral nematic. Chiral refers to the unique ability to selectively reflect one component of circularly polarized light. The term chiral nematic is used interchangeably with cholesteric. Refer to the section on cholesteric liquid crystals for more information about this mesophase.
The word "smectic" is derived from the Greek word for soap. This seemingly ambiguous origin is explained by the fact that the thick, slippery substance often found at the bottom of a soap dish is actually a type of smectic liquid crystal.
The smectic state is another distinct mesophase of liquid crystal substances. Molecules in this phase show a degree of translational order not present in the nematic. In the smectic state, the molecules maintain the general orientational order of nematics, but also tend to align themselves in layers or planes. Motion is restricted to within these planes, and separate planes are observed to flow past each other. The increased order means that the smectic state is more "solid-like" than the nematic.
In the smectic-A mesophase, the director is perpendicular to the smectic plane, and there is no particular positional order in the layer. Similarly, the smectic-B mesophase orients with the director perpendicular to the smectic plane, but the molecules are arranged into a network of hexagons within the layer. In the smectic-C mesophase, molecules are arranged as in the smectic-A mesophase, but the director is at a constant tilt angle measured normally to the smectic plane.
A schematic representation of a smectic C* phase (left), and a view of the same phase, but along the axis (right).
The cholesteric (or chiral nematic) liquid crystal phase is typically composed of nematic mesogenic molecules containing a chiral center which produces intermolecular forces that favor alignment between molecules at a slight angle to one another. This leads to the formation of a structure which can be visualized as a stack of very thin 2-D nematic-like layers with the director in each layer twisted with respect to those above and below. In this structure, the directors actually form in a continuous helical pattern about the layer normal as illustrated by the black arrow in the following figure and animation. The black arrow in the animation represents director orientation in the succession of layers along the stack.
An important characteristic of the cholesteric mesophase is the pitch. The pitch, p, is defined as the distance it takes for the director to rotate one full turn in the helix as illustrated in the above animation. A byproduct of the helical structure of the chiral nematic phase, is its ability to selectively reflect light of wavelengths equal to the pitch length, so that a color will be reflected when the pitch is equal to the corresponding wavelength of light in the visible spectrum. The effect is based on the temperature dependence of the gradual change in director orientation between successive layers (illustrated above), which modifies the pitch length resulting in an alteration of the wavelength of reflected light according to the temperature. The angle at which the director changes can be made larger, and thus tighten the pitch, by increasing the temperature of the molecules, hence giving them more thermal energy. Similarly, decreasing the temperature of the molecules increases the pitch length of the chiral nematic liquid crystal. This makes it possible to build a liquid crystal thermometer that displays the temperature of its environment by the reflected color. Mixtures of various types of these liquid crystals are often used to create sensors with a wide variety of responses to temperature change. Such sensors are used for thermometers often in the form of heat sensitive films to detect flaws in circuit board connections, fluid flow patterns, condition of batteries, the presence of radiation, or in novelties such as "mood" rings.
In the fabrication of films, since putting chiral nematic liquid crystals directly on a black background would lead to degradation and perhaps contamination, the crystals are micro-encapsulated into particles of very small dimensions. The particles are then treated with a binding material that will contract upon curing so as to flatten the microcapsules and produce the best alignment for brighter colors. An application of a class of chiral nematic liquid crystals which are less temperature sensitive is to create materials such as clothing, dolls, inks and paints.
The wavelength of the reflected light can also be controlled by adjusting the chemical composition, since cholesterics can either consist of exclusively chiral molecules or of nematic molecules with a chiral dopant dispersed throughout. In this case, the dopant concentration is used to adjust the chirality and thus the pitch.
Columnar liquid crystals are different from the previous types because they are shaped like disks instead of long rods. This mesophase is characterized by stacked columns of molecules. The columns are packed together to form a two-dimensional crystalline array. The arrangement of the molecules within the columns and the arrangement of the columns themselves leads to new mesophases.
Application of Liquid crystal in Pharmacy:
A large part of cosmetic products are made in the form of emulsions, a form that allows the simultaneous use of lipophilic and hydrophilic ingredients in the required dosages. A product in the form of an emulsion also has the advantage of having the most convenient appearance and texture that also facilitates its application. They can be formulated to be liquid, milk type emulsions of variable consistency, creams, or even super liquid spray able emulsions. Finally,
we should also consider the fact that an emulsion is the best carrier for active ingredients and functional substances. The theory of stabilising an emulsion through the formation of a network of liquid crystals is different to the HLB theory or the Schulman couple.s theory. The gelification of the water
phase obtainable with hydrosolvatable polymers or with emulsifiers that are able to form a reticular organised structure in liquid crystal form, eliminates the need to use waxy components in large quantities and consistency factors that are no longer in harmony with the modern conception of light and easy to spread emulsions
Advantage of Liquid crystals in emulsions:
LCs (mesophases) provides the following advantages to emulsion.
1. Increased stability
2. Prolonged hydration
3. Controlled drug delivery
1) Stability: Emulsion stability of the multilayers around the oil droplets act as a
barrier to coalescence. If oil droplets coalesce emulsion breaks. This barrier for
coalescence acts as increased stability property of the emulsion
2) Prolonged hydration: Lamellar liquid crystalline and gel network contain water layer, which shows that 50% of the water of oil in water (o/w) emulsion can be bound to such structures. Such water is less prone to evaporation when applied to the skin and permits a long lasting moisturisation / hydrating effect, necessary for drug entry.
3) Controlled Drug delivery: Liquid crystals prevent the fast release of the drug dissolved in the oil phase of an emulsion. This is attributed to the lamellar liquid crystalline multilayer, which reduces the interfacial transport of a drug dissolved within the oil droplets. Microscopic observations under polarized light show the exceptional thickness of liquid crystalline lamellar layer around the oil droplets
Function & properties of the liquid crystal system:
LCs When present at the oil/water interface, the liquid crystals help give the system rigidity and, by limiting the fluctuation of the components at the interface, give the emulsion great stability. Furthermore, the liquid crystal system enhances the moisturising ability of the emulsion; in this special .network. The quantity of interlamellar water can be extremely high and become immediately available when the cream is applied to the skin. For these reasons these emulsions have a shiny surface, a fresh and original feel and they leave a light and pleasant sensation on the skin. In recent years, the moisturising effect of creams and lotions has become increasingly more important and cosmetic chemists are constantly searching for better methods of retaining water in the superior layers of the skin. The evaporation of the bonding water in emulsions containing anisotropic lamellar phases is slower and permits a hydro retentive action that prolongs the moisturising effect. The associations that are formed because of the
excess water are particularly interesting; in these cases the ability of the crystalline phase to swell is strictly linked to the stability and the behaviour of the emulsion because, in a liquid crystal system, the quantity of interlamellar water and of hydrophilic elements can amount to 70% of the total external phase
Article written by Devesh Chaudhari
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