Saturday, June 8, 2013

Transport of particles by a thermally induced gradient of the order parameter in nematic liquid crystals

M. Škarabot, Ž. Lokar, and I. Muševič

We demonstrate manipulation and transport of microparticles and even fluorescent molecules by the thermally induced gradient of the order parameter in the nematic liquid crystal. We use IR light absorption of the tightly focused beam of laser tweezers to heat locally a thin layer of the nematic liquid crystal by several degrees. This creates a spatial gradient of temperature of the nematic liquid crystal over separations of several tens of micrometers. We show that a dipolar colloidal particle is attracted into the hot spot of the laser tweezers. The depth of the trapping potential scales linearly with particle radius, indicating that the trapping mechanism is due to elastic self-energy of the distorted nematic liquid crystal around the particle and softening of the elasticity with increased temperature of the liquid crystal. We also demonstrate that this thermal trapping mechanism is efficient down to the nanoscale, as fluorescent molecules are also transported into hotter regions of the liquid crystal. This effect is absent in the isotropic phase, which calls into question particle transport due to the Soret effect.

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