Experiments have shown that nematic liquid crystal systems are a promising avenue for particle self-assembly. However, this phenomenon is not completely understood. My research focuses on understanding the energetics of colloidal particles immersed in a nematic liquid crystal. We are currently performing both molecular dynamics and continuum calculations to understand the colloidal forces in these systems.
To date, most of the theoretical and numerical work has been concerned with relatively simple colloidal/LC systems. These studies have primarily focused on one or two particle systems where the colloids are treated as perfect spheres. We hope to expand on these results by examining more complex colloidal systems. This would include systems with multiple particles (three or more) as well as non-spherical colloids.
We are also concerned with colloids present at an LC/aqueous interface. It has been experimentally observed that by changing the amount of surfactant present in the aqueous phase, a tunable range of colloidal interactions is possible. The forces generated are on the order of picoNewtons and hence are biochemically relevant. We hope that by better understanding these systems through simulation, we can develop novel means to interrogate the mechanical properties of DNA and chromatin. Currently, beyond the organization of nucleosomes little is known concerning genome architecture. We believe LCs may be a means to extend our knowledge by allowing us to mechanically probe entire genomes and draw conclusions of long-range genomic structure based on the mechanical response of different segments. Simply put, a liquid crystal is a liquid with well characterized and controllable structure. To date, no mechanical investigations of biochemical systems take advantage of this unique property.