Event Report: British Council Researcher Links Workshop on Soft Matter

18-21 March 2014, Daejeon, South Korea

article by Flynn Castles

Jinhae Park

Academic co-organiser Dr Jinhae Park addresses delegates at the British Council Researcher Links Workshop on Soft Matter.

The stated aim of the British Council’s Researcher Links Workshops programme is to “bring together early-career researchers from UK and one of 18 partner countries to allow them to make international collaborations that improve the quality of their research”. In this context, early-career researchers are defined loosely as those who have been awarded a PhD within the last ten years. The subject of this particular workshop was Soft Matter: Analysis, Applications, and Challenges, and naturally included many working in the field of liquid crystals. The academic organisers were Dr Apala Majumdar (University of Bath, UK) and Dr Jinhae Park (Chungnam National University, South Korea), and the event was held at the National Institute for Mathematical Sciences in the city of Daejeon. The programme included 23 oral presentations by early-career researchers from the UK and South Korea, seven plenary talks from senior researchers, an intercultural session run by British Council, and a focused discussion on funding opportunities and future collaborations. The delegates also enjoyed a lively social programme, including a welcome dinner hosted by the British council in Seoul and a banquet hosted by the local organisers in Daejeon. With the British Council generously providing funding for travel and accommodation, the event represented an excellent opportunity for young researchers from the UK and South Korea to share their research and forge new international collaborations, in line with the programme’s aims.

Apala Majumdar

Academic co-organiser Apala Majumdar.

From the perspective of the BLCS, it is perhaps particularly gratifying to see that Dr Apala Majumdar—who herself was a winner of the BLCS Young Scientist Award in 2012 and is currently a Reader at the University of Bath—is now involved with generating opportunities for young liquid crystal scientists in the UK and is providing leadership in the wider soft-matter community at an international level.



About the author: Dr Flynn Castles is a Research Fellow in the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford. Email: flynn.castles…at…materials.ox.ac.uk.

Conference Report: BLCS Annual Meeting 2014

14-16 April 2014, Collingwood College, Durham University

article by Simon Wood

durhamThe Annual Meeting of the British Liquid Crystal Society was held on 14-16th April 2014 in Collingwood College at Durham University. The event provided an opportunity to bring together researchers in all areas of Liquid Crystal research – from synthesis to simulations. Academics were present from a variety of departments (Chemistry, Material Science, Physics, Engineering and Mathematics) highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of the field from both national and international institutions. As well as providing a venue for the dissemination of the latest research there were plenty of opportunities to foster new collaborations and nurture old relationships – whether that was at poster sessions, over a pint in the bar on Tuesday evening or over closely contested rounds of pool or table tennis in Collingwood College.

photo 3There were 28 talks and 34 posters presented over the three days – including the outstanding Sturgeon Lecture given by Oleg Lavrentovich (Kent State) on lyotropic chromonic liquid crystals. Other invited talks – which were all also very engaging – were given by Randall Kamien (University of Pennsylvania), Dave Walba (University of Colorado), Andrew Masters (University of Manchester) and Igor Musevic (University of Llubljana). The AGM (chaired by Ingo Dierking, University of Manchester) was held on Monday 14th and saw the election of Andrew Masters (Univeristy of Manchester) to the position of Vice-chairman and Chair-elect, Tim Wilkinson (University of Cambridge) and Mike Hird (University of Hull) to the position of Ordinary Members of the Committee, John Goodby (University of York) to the position of an Industry Member of the Committee based on his involvement with Kingston Chemicals, and Simon Wood (University of Oxford) as a Student Member.

The conference dinner was held in Collingwood College dining hall where portraits of notable members stared down posters from musicals past and present. The meal was excellent – as was Tim Wilkinson’s (University of Cambridge) gracious acceptance of the Hilsum Medal. The Gray medal was awarded to Mark Warner (University of Cambridge) who unfortunately couldn’t attend – though an acceptance was read out on his behalf. Finally, the Young Scientist award was presented to Gareth Alexander (University of Warwick).

The final day was begun with a series of four talks on synthetic chemistry by students from the University of Hull, a refreshing wake-up for those who had spent far too long in the bar discussing their research on the previous night. John Goodby (University of York) followed this up with a talk on ‘What makes a liquid crystal’ which also served as an excellent tribute to George Gray who passed away in May last year. An exciting closing talk was given by John Lydon (University of Leeds) on cellulose esters and their mesogenic properties which closed proceedings with a (literal) bang.

BLCS_2014_posterThe poster prize was won by Calum Williams (University of Cambridge, ‘Tunable multifunctional nanostructured holograms using liquid crystals’), and the best oral prize went to Rachel Hyman (University of Cambridge, ‘Polarisation independent phase-modulation of light using polymer-stabilised blue phase liquid crystals’) and with that, the 28th Annual British Liquid Crystal Society Conference came to an end – and I’m sure that all who attended will agree that it was a great success – both in terms of the quality of research on show, and for the excellent environment it provided for fostering interactions between researchers from different universities and in different departments. Huge thanks must go to Mark Wilson and the others at Durham who made the event possible.

About the author: Simon Wood is a PhD student in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford. Email: simon.wood…at…eng.ox.ac.uk.

Conference Report: BLCS Annual Meeting 2013

25-27 March 2013, Selwyn College, University of Cambridge

article by Kirsty Holdsworth (University of York, email: klh509…at…york.ac.uk)

Selwyn CollegeThe annual meeting of the BLCS this year took place on 25-27 March 2013 in the picturesque Selwyn College at the University of Cambridge – a place with perfectly manicured lawns and catering staff we’re not like to forget for quite some time. This year the BLCS conference was to lead directly onto an afternoon mathematics session held by the Isaac Newton Institute, which proved popular. As usual the whole event was alive with exciting and enthusiastic talks, followed by equally lively discussions in the bar afterwards!

DSC02609DSC02607The first ever BLCS Distinguished Lecturer title was given to Professor Peter Collings, who did not disappoint with his talk ‘The Assembly/Disassembly Kinetics and Elasticity of Chromonic Liquid Crystals,’ overviewing some of the work he and his group have completed on chromonic liquid crystals. This talk was swiftly followed by Professor Gordon Tiddy who gave a memorable talk full of dry wit and good humour about his own experiences with chromonic liquid crystals and the dye sunset yellow. Professor Peter Palffy-Muhoray kept the audience enthralled with this year’s Sturgeon Memorial Lecture, for which he gave a talk entitled ‘Solid Liquid Crystals’ (the term ‘liquid crystal’ clearly wasn’t oxymoronic enough) which included quite amazing videos of liquid crystal elastomer films with the ability to swim and fly.


The George W Gray medal was awarded to a deserving Professor Helen Gleeson, whose fascinating talk gave us a flavour of her research over the years, including biaxial nematic systems and optical tweezing of particles in liquid crystals. Dr Isabel Saez kept her speech short and sweet as she collected the Cyril Hilsum Medal at the conference dinner for her contributions to the field of liquid crystals throughout her career so far, in particular her work with clusters, dendrimers and nanoparticles. The Young Scientist award was awarded to Dr Sarabjot Kaur, who gave a presentation detailing her work with bent core systems entitled ‘Going round the bend! How bent molecules affect the properties of nematic liquid crystals.

The standard of talks this year was very high, showcasing innovative results and spanning broad subject areas including supermolecular liquid crystals from inorganic clusters, T-shaped benzothizole compounds and simulations of blue phases in external fields. Kirsty Holdsworth took home the prize for best talk with an interesting presentation (if I do say so myself) entitled ‘controlling the director configuration in nematic polymer particles’.

The poster session included 26 posters spanning all possible disciplines surrounding liquid crystals and some provoked lively discussion (granted the wine may have helped). The best poster prize was awarded to Harry Milton from Manchester University for his poster titled ‘Assessment of liquid crystal lenses for contact lens use’.

As is tradition, the BLCS AGM would have been quite amiss without the closing presentation by Dr John Lydon, complete with poem. This year he took us through history, from nature and into future possibilities with his talk entitled ‘Crane flies, opals, inverse opals and tomorrow’s photonics.’

DSC02604So with another BLCS AGM over and done with, what will Durham 2014 have in store for us?


Conference report: The Molecular Modelling and Theory of Liquid Crystals

 22 March 2013, Newton Institute, University of Cambridge

article by Andrew Masters


This one day workshop was jointly organized between the Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics Group (SMTG) of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the British Liquid Crystal Society (BLCS), and the Isaac Newton Institute (INI), Cambridge. It formed part of the INI’s workshop on Analytical  and Computational Paths from Molecular Foundations to Continuum Descriptions workshop. The SMTG and BLCS organizers were David Cheung and Andrew Masters, while the INI organizers were Mike Allen, Mikhail Osipov,Valeriy Slastikov, and Claudio Zannoni.

Approximately 20 people, containing a good number of PhD students and Research Associates, registered for this event, joining the people already participating in the INI workshop. The session kicked off by presentations from Claudio Zannoni (Bologna) and Mark Wilson (Durham), giving an up-to-date account of molecular simulation in the field of liquid crystals. Claudio Zannoni focused in the main on thermotropic systems while Mark Wilson instead presented recent results for self-aggregating, chromonic systems. After this came a wide variety of presentations, a nice mix of simulation, theory and experiment.

Seminar videos and presentation slides from this one day event are available at http://www.newton.ac.uk/programmes/MLC/mlcw22p, while those for the whole INI workshop can be found at http://www.newton.ac.uk/programmes/MLC/mlcw02p.html.