Michael C. M. Varney, Qiaoxuan Zhang, Bohdan Senyuk, and Ivan I. Smalyukh
We study elastic interactions between colloidal particles and deformation landscapes of undulations in a cholesteric liquid crystal under an electric field applied normal to cholesteric layers. The onset of undulation instability is influenced by the presence of colloidal inclusions and, in turn, layers’ undulations mediate the spatial patterning of particle locations. We find that the bending of cholesteric layers around a colloidal particle surface prompts the local nucleation of an undulations lattice at electric fields below the well-defined threshold known for liquid crystals without inclusions, and that the onset of the resulting lattice is locally influenced, both dimensionally and orientationally, by the initial arrangements of colloids defined using laser tweezers. Spherical particles tend to spatially localize in the regions of strong distortions of the cholesteric layers, while colloidal nanowires exhibit an additional preference for multistable alignment offset along various vectors of the undulations lattice. Magnetic rotation of superparamagnetic colloidal particles couples with the locally distorted helical axis and undulating cholesteric layers in a manner that allows for a controlled three-dimensional translation of these particles. These interaction modes lend insight into the physics of liquid crystal structure-colloid elastic interactions, as well as point the way towards guided self-assembly of reconfigurable colloidal composites with potential applications in diffraction optics and photonics.