CU-Boulder Awarded $7.2 Million for Liquid Crystal Research Center

September 16, 2008

The National Science Foundation has renewed its support of the University of Colorado at Boulder's Liquid Crystal Materials Research Center, awarding the university a $7.2 million grant.

This is the third round of multiyear funding the center has received through the NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program. The MRSEC program supports a network of collaborative university research centers that pursue basic materials research and develop and test materials for commercial and consumer applications.

Founded in 1995, the Liquid Crystal Materials Research Center brings together faculty, graduate and undergraduate students from the physics, chemistry and biochemistry, and chemical engineering departments to study and develop new liquid crystal materials and uses. CU-Boulder physics Professor Noel Clark, center director, and chemistry and biochemistry Professor Dave Walba, associate director, began working together on liquid crystals research in 1983.

Liquid crystals are organic materials related to soap. They behave both like a solid and a liquid and are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and voltage. This makes them ideal for use in information display applications such as computer and cell-phone screens, watch faces, calculators and flat-panel televisions, said Clark.

"Materials research has had great importance for the university for many years," said Stein Sture, vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate School. "There are graduate students who come here specifically for this program and then go on to successful careers around the country."

In addition to basic materials research, the center has been successful at developing new applications for liquid crystals, said Clark. The center has spun off six "daughter" companies, including two-year-old Naxellent in Broomfield, which develops liquid crystal technology for solar control panels.

The center also is collaborating with three other companies to develop non-display applications for liquid crystals that will improve the efficiency of solar heating, Clark said. For example, windows filled with a temperature-responsive liquid crystal might absorb light when it is cold out and turn opaque to reflect light when it's hot.

"To bring solar applications to the next level is a major challenge and will require extensive basic research and creativity," said Sture. "If they crack that nut, it will be a major contribution to the world."

In addition to the six-year, $7.2 million NSF grant, the state of Colorado and CU-Boulder will contribute $800,000 a year in matching funds to the center.

Clark called the grant "life" for the center. "It means we can pursue a lot of new ideas," he said. "We've been pretty good at staying ahead of the field, and we hope to keep on doing that."

For more information about the Liquid Crystal Materials Research Center, visit the Web site at lcmrc.colorado.edu.

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