A colloid made from a particle injected in liquid crystal.
Credit: Courtesy of UC Boulder A colloid made from a particle injected in liquid crystal.

Topology, which is the mathematical study of continuous geometric forms, has long explored intersections between mathematical theory and physical world. A recent discovery by researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder reinforces this intersection at the micro-scale.

In their work, which was recently published in Nature, the scientists developed the ability to inject minute particles into liquid crystal. This process allowed them to create colloids of varying shapes—including representations of fundamental topological building blocks. According to a university press release, this finding not only suggests the ability to produce a "recipe book" of materials, but also "new materials with properties that do not exist in nature."

"Our study shows that interaction between particles and molecular alignment in liquid crystals follows the predictions of topological theorems, making it possible to use these theorems in designing new composite materials with unique properties that cannot be encountered in nature or synthesized by chemists," said Ivan Smalyukh, a UC Boulder assistant professor of physics. "These findings lay the groundwork for new applications in experimental studies of low-dimensional topology, with important potential ramifications for many branches of science and technology."

Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.