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Research Highlight | Materials Science Division

Sculpting macroscopic perfect crystals within perfect crystals

In a study published in Science Advances, researchers sculpted ideal crystals within other ideal crystals. These structures reflect light at controllable wavelengths, offering potential for energy-efficient display and sensing applications.

Scientific Achievement

Ideal, defect-free, cuboidal single crystals of arbitrary shape have been sculpted within a second ideal crystal for the first time.

Significance and Impact

The crystals created here reflect visible light at precise wave lengths. By sculpting a first crystal within a second one, it is possible to create switchable optical patterns that could not be produced before and that exhibit extremely fast, reversible transformations under applied voltage. They offer significant potential for display, wave guide, and sensing applications.

Research Details

  • The single crystals were created by assembling blue-phases of chiral liquid crystals on surfaces patterned using liquid crystalline polymer brushes.
  • Advanced multi-scale simulations of liquid crystalline materials were used to design patterns within patterns, thereby sculpting one type of crystal lattice within another with which to guide the liquids’ assembly.
  • The resulting crystals are stable over wide ranges of temperature and undergo transformations with only a small fraction of the power that is required for traditional liquid crystal phases used in modern displays.

Work was performed at Argonne National Laboratory.


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Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.