HISTORY OF FSU CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE PHYSICS OF LIQUID CRYSTALS

Throughout its long and tormented history, many important scientific contributions to the fundamental knowledge of natural phenomena in general and liquid crystal research in particular have emerged from Russian scientists. One thinks first of the world-celebrated series of books, the Landau and Lifshitz Course in Theoretical Physics that also effectively documents former USSR contributions (Landau and Lifshitz 1986).

In History of Liquid Crystals, Kelker (1973) places the first development of a continuum theory for liquid crystals, including the effect of external fields, in the period 1922-1933 (Oseen 1929). During this time, outstanding contributions to the understanding of physical and material properties of liquid crystals were made by Freedericksz' group in Leningrad. Indeed, Freedericksz is most famous for the Freedericksz transition, which is the basis for the operation of liquid crystals in electronic displays (Freedericksz and Zolina 1933). Freedericksz disappeared in the early forties, a particularly difficult time for the former USSR, when many people disappeared for reasons that may never be known.

The "outstanding intensity and continuity of research in the Freedericksz school in Leningrad" reached a new peak in the late thirties and early forties through the works of Zvetkoff. For example, he measured the diamagnetic susceptibility of nematic liquid crystals by suspending a liquid crystal sample from a quartz thread into a rotating magnetic field (Footnote 9). As the magnet turned, the liquid crystal sample followed. But, its rotation was out of phase with that of the magnetic field. Zvetkoff deduced from this observation a precise determination for the anisotropy in the diamagnetic susceptibility, and related his results to molecular structure. Zvetkoff continued his experiments, publishing his works even during the siege of Leningrad (Zvetkoff 1942). This is an awesome tribute to the strength of the Russian spirit under very difficult conditions.

Finally, Igor Chystiakov must be counted among the classical names because he wrote the first review of liquid crystals (Footnote 10), which was translated by the American Institute of Physics in 1967 (Chystiakov 1967). Since then, a great deal of work on fundamental properties of liquid crystals has taken place in the FSU and around the world that has been summarized by Lev Blinov in his book Electro-optical and Magneto-optical Properties of Liquid Crystals (Footnote 11).

Even during the Cold War period, there was contact with research on fundamental questions in the USSR through scientific journals, translated by the American Institute of Physics, as well as exchange visits among scientists of the USSR and the United States. For example, a group at Bell Labs collaborated with a group in Moscow on a novel demonstration of the effect of the analogue of the Higgs' boson on a liquid crystal phase transition (Anisimov 1990).

Fundamental research is a proven synergistic communication channel for the sharing and developing of new ideas between people from different countries and different political backgrounds. In contrast, some engineering research, technology development, and business, where much of the expertise resides in individual talents and unpublished management/technical know-how, are more sensitive to local socioeconomic issues (Wiggenhorn 1990; Porter 1990; Reich 1992).

Given the current dynamic state of the FSU, an original perspective is required to evaluate its technology. Technology is not a commodity like grain, oil, minerals, etc. that can simply be piped out in exchange for hard currency -- unless it is in a new and appealing product. The perspective to adopt is that technology is about people and their abilities to create new and better products and services. The implication is that technology is tied to, indeed, often defined by, the socioeconomic system in which people live. To evaluate FSU liquid crystal display technologies in this context, then, one needs to be aware of the environments in which they are embedded.


Published: December 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian