Research Image of the Year uncovers the ‘seashore’ of liquid crystal materials

12 Nov 2018

Image: © uwimages/

At a microscopic level, science can appear almost like an incredible piece of art, as the 2018 SFI Research Image of the Year shows.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) announced a string of prize winners today as part of the SFI Awards, highlighting a number of researchers based in Ireland. Some of the recipients included Trinity College Dublin’s Prof John Boland (Researcher of the Year) and Dr Tomás Ryan (SFI Early Career Researcher of the Year).

However, from a visual perspective, there was much interest in the SFI Research Image of the Year award, with this year’s prize going to Dr Sithara Sreenilayam Pavithran of Dublin City University.

The black, yellow and orange colours of a liquid crystal cell appearing like a seashore.

The SFI Research Image of the Year. Image: Dr Sithara Sreenilayam Pavithran/DCU

What you’re seeing

Currently a coordinator at the Advanced Processing Technology Research Centre, Sreenilayam’s image was entitled ‘Liquid Crystal Seashore’. It shows seashore-like features in the liquid crystal (LC) material at the isotropic to nematic phase transition.

In the region, like water bubbles nearshore, are the thread-like defects that develop at the isotropic to anisotropic transition temperature, and these defects are the proof of uniaxial nematic phase transition.

Appearing like shallow water, the yellow colour is the pre-transitional region just below the conditions for phase separation of anisotropic nematic where molecules are slowly possessing orientational order.

Meanwhile, the orange colour is the orientational order of molecules that are spontaneously arising below isotropic to nematic phase transition. The colour of the image depends on the temperature, shape of LC molecule and sample thickness.

Speaking of the awards generally, SFI director general Prof Mark Ferguson said: “I want to congratulate the winners on their dedication and the contribution they are making to Ireland’s economy and society. I am confident that their success will be a source of inspiration to their peers and, more importantly, to the next generation of researchers in Ireland.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic