Published: Feb. 1, 2016

Liquid Crystal Image on displayIf you visit CU’s L.H. Gemmill Library of Engineering, Mathematics and Physics this semester, one of the first things you are likely to see is a collection of colorful, eye-catching images of liquid crystals created by researchers in the Soft Materials Research Center, based in the Department of Physics.

When the call for art exhibits grounded in science went out from the library last summer, Christine Morrow, the Center's Education and Outreach Director, immediately recognized an exciting opportunity to create an educational exhibit centered around liquid crystal images obtained by Center scientists in the course of their research. The microscopic textures of liquid crystals viewed in polarized light are colorful and visually appealing, and she realized that a set of liquid crystal images would make a striking display that could engage and intrigue library patrons. "The idea of our exhibit is to get people's attention, to make them curious about where these gorgeous images come from, and to show them how scientific researchers think and feel."

The Gemmill Library has featured displays of student and faculty research, art and other works in engineering and the applied sciences since 2014. Scientific information resulting from academic research is traditionally shared in many ways, including lectures and peer-reviewed papers. However, these communications are often couched in language that is technical and directed to a specialized audience. The Stairwell Gallery, created in the belief that science and engineering students are inspired by relevant, accessible art, encourages creativity, collaboration and community and provides an alternative, informal venue for learning about science.

The liquid crystal exhibit was created over several months by Center students, faculty, and staff. Morrow views the gallery project both as an ideal opportunity to use images obtained in the laboratory to showcase Center research, and as a way of training Center graduate students in how to communicate science-related topics to non-experts. The student participants were also encouraged to compose vignettes that communicate their own perspectives of what it is like to conduct leading-edge, academic research. These personal reflections form part of the display in the gallery.

Morrow suggests that the exhibit can be enjoyed at many levels. "If people are attracted by the images and then make the connection that this is the same stuff used in their TVs and smart phone displays, this is already an achievement. If they learn anything more by reading the image captions, or come away with some insight into what it means to be a researcher, this is a bonus."

The Soft Materials Research Center is funded by the National Science Foundation to pursue new, inter-disciplinary science and applications of soft materials. The liquid crystal exhibit will be on display in the Gemmill Library of Engineering, Mathematics and Physics through the end of the spring semester.

Joe Maclennan