NSF Awards CU-Boulder $6 Million For Liquid Crystals Research Center

January 13, 2003

The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Colorado at Boulder $6 million to support its Ferroelectric Liquid Crystal Materials Research Center.

The CU-Boulder center is funded by NSF's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center program, a national network that includes Harvard, Columbia, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Caltech, Cornell and the University of Chicago among its 29 centers. The award is for six years and is renewable.

"This funding enables us to push liquid crystal science in new directions and maintain our position as one of the world's leading liquid crystal research organizations," said physics Professor Noel Clark, the center's director.

Liquid crystals are organic materials related to soap that are in some ways solid and in some ways liquid, making them ideal for information display applications. During the next year about 2 billion liquid crystal displays, or LCDs, will be manufactured worldwide for laptop and desktop computers, flat-panel televisions, cell phones, calculators and watches, making LCDs one of the most significant technologies of the information age, according to David Walba, director of industrial relations for the CU-Boulder center.

Founded in 1993, the Ferroelectric Liquid Crystal Materials Research Center teams faculty, graduate and undergraduate students from the physics, chemistry and biochemistry, and chemical engineering departments to pursue a new understanding of liquid crystals and develop new liquid crystal materials and uses, according to Clark.

The center's research focuses on ferroelectrics, a kind of liquid crystal well suited for working with the semiconductor electrical switches found in computer chips.

"This integration of liquid crystals with semiconductors provides a new generation of optical chips - computer chips that are also displays," Walba said.

The funding also will allow the center to continue its educational outreach, which includes presenting science enrichment classes to Colorado's K-12 schools and the Liquid Crystal show in the CU Wizards series.

"Materials are the stuff of everyday life, making excellent topics for bringing physical science concepts into the classroom," said Christine Morrow, the center's director of education and outreach.

Since 1998, the Materials Science From CU program, part of CU-Boulder's Science Discovery program, has traveled to more than 300 Colorado schools, using topics such as electronics, magnets and electricity, lasers and liquid crystals to bring physical science concepts into the classroom with hands-on demonstrations and experiments.

During the Liquid Crystal Wizards show, children learn about light, polarization and optics and get to see liquid crystals in action with demonstrations of a 20-foot-high bubble. Parents are used in the demos to behave like liquid crystal molecules.

"The center's educational outreach has a direct effect on people throughout Colorado. K-12 institutions play an important role in developing student's impressions of and attitudes toward science," Morrow said.

For more information about the Ferroelectric Liquid Crystal Research Center, visit the Web site at http://flcmrc.colorado.edu .

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