Doug Cleaver, Linda Hirst, Robert Meyer and Tim Atherton

Doug Cleaver, Linda Hirst, Robert Meyer and Tim Atherton at the Gordon Research Conference on Liquid Crystals 2013 (photo by Zoey Davidson)

This week I participated in the 2013 Gordon Research Conference on Liquid Crystals, held on the stunning campus of the University of New England, Biddeford, Maine.

Prior to the conference, we held a mini-symposium at Tufts featuring invited talks by Prof. Linda Hirst of UC Merced, creator of the website Soft Matter World, and Prof. Doug Cleaver of Sheffield Hallam University, UK. Linda spoke about some of her recent work on quantum dots in liquid crystals, while Doug showed us his simulations of helical bundles self-assembling from discotic liquid crystals. Members of the Soft Matter group at Tufts—Badel Mbanga, Chris Burke, Kate Voorhes—and also Dan Rizzo from Staii lab all gave short soundbite talks about their various projects.

Tim Atherton enjoys the beach at University of New England (photo by Zoey Davidson)

Tim Atherton enjoys the beach at University of New England (photo by Zoey Davidson)

Linda, Doug and myself continued to the conference via the Amtrak Downeaster. The format of a GRC is a little different from most other conferences: talks are scheduled in the morning and evening, with substantial time for informal interactions and discussion of posters. We were lucky enough to enjoy the beaches adjacent to the campus as well as the opportunities for running and kayaking. This design tends to make these conferences tremendously productive, exposing participants to cutting edge research and facilitating new collaborations. A portion of the conference was dedicated to the remarkable career of Robert Meyer of Brandeis University (pictured at the top of this post), one of the most famous researchers in the field of Liquid Crystals and the discoverer of flexoelectricity.

It was a propos, then, that at the poster sessions on Monday and Tuesday, I presented a poster about my recent work on understanding how flexoelectricity modifies the interaction of liquid crystals with surfaces:


Some scientific highlights of the conference included the wonderful student session; notably the beautiful talk on active nematics by Stephen DeCamp of the Dogic group at Brandeis. I was fascinated by the work of Sharon Glotzer‘s group at University of Michigan who have been characterizing the phases formed by different polyhedra to understand the extent to which entropy can cause self-organization of crystalline materials. Karl Saunders of Cal Poly presented some neat Landau-de Gennes calculations of the phase diagrams for de Vries smectics. I also enjoyed a talk by Prof. Tom Lubensky of the University of Pennsylvania had some fascinating thoughts about topological characterization of defects in smectic liquid crystals. There were, of course, many other interesting talks ranging from such topics as shape-changing structures and structural color in ocean dwellers.

Congratulations to Linda Hirst and Torsten Hegmann for being  elected co-vice chairs for the next conference, to be held in 2015. Many, many thanks are due to Prof. Randy Kamien of the University of Pennsylvania organizing and chairing the conference and Prof. Nick Abbott of the University of Wisconsin-Madison for vice-chairing.


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