Ewan Cruickshank winning award

PALS Lecturer wins national young scientist award for liquid crystal research

By Ewan Cruickshank, Lecturer, School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences - 02 May 2024

In April of this year, Ewan Cruickshank, a Lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, was the proud recipient of The BLCS Young Scientist Award at the annual British Liquid Crystal Society conference at the University of Oxford.

The award, normally presented annually for significant research contributions to the field of liquid crystals for candidates within 10 years of beginning their PhD, is prestigious in its field and was given to Ewan for his contributions across a range of topics. The presentation he gave in accepting this award was titled ‘New Compounds Based on RM734 Which Exhibit the Ferroelectric Nematic Phase’. Here, the RGU researcher explains more…

My research has mainly focussed on understanding the structure-property relationships involved in the formation of novel liquid crystal phases. Liquid crystal phases are intermediate phases of matter which exist between the isotropic liquid and the solid crystalline phases. What makes liquid crystals so exciting to study is the fact that they exhibit the properties of both a liquid and a solid at the same time.

Critically, it is the ability of liquid crystalline materials to align when subjected to an electrical field which makes them so desirable for display devices and other applications. LCDs are ubiquitous with modern technology and have become a multi-billion-dollar industry since first being used for this purpose in the 1970s. Rather than looking at the applications side of this area of research I focussed more on the chemistry side, looking to identify new materials which would show exciting new phases which had not been fully investigated before.

During my PhD I studied liquid crystal dimers which exhibited twist-bend phases, exciting because they show spontaneous chirality while the molecules themselves are achiral. These bent dimers have attracted considerable research attention in recent years and I along with my co-authors have looked to modify a range of features on them in order to investigate what effect these changes have on the stability of different liquid crystal phases.

In this area, my first-author paper entitled ‘Sulfur-linked cyanobiphenyl-based liquid crystal dimers and the twist-bend nematic phase’ was awarded the Luckhurst-Samulski Prize in 2019 for the best paper that year in the journal Liquid Crystals and I have found working with these dimers particularly interesting.

More recently I have also looked to study a phase first reported in 2017 known as the ferroelectric nematic phase, initially working on the EPSRC funded New Horizons Project: Ferroelectricity and the Nematic Liquid Crystal Phase.

This phase is a polar variant of the nematic phase which underpins LCD technology, meaning that it has a range of fascinating properties which could potentially have real application potential. Some of these properties include being easy to align; having a strong non-linear optical response; high polarisation values; large dielectric permittivity; and switching occurs for very low electric fields. The ability for these materials to align so easily under external stimuli means that devices using the conventional nematic phase could see this phase replaced by the ferroelectric nematic phase which would greatly reduce the energy consumption for these devices.

My work in this area has looked to synthesise new materials which exhibit this novel phase and to make modifications which will give an understanding of how to make these materials more suitable for room temperature applications.

One of the key contributions in this area was made in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aberdeen and University of Warsaw, where we reported the first example of a ferroelectric nematic material which was intrinsically chiral. In 2022, I was invited to present my work on this novel phase at the Rank Prize Symposium for Liquid Crystal Technology for Light. More recently in March 2024, I published a comprehensive review on compounds which exhibited the ferroelectric nematic phase and described what effect modifications to the template compounds had on the stability of the phase.

The BLCS young scientist prize was awarded to me this year in recognition of my work in both these topics of liquid crystal research, and it was a great honour to receive such an award, particularly considering the past awardees.

Ewan Cruickshank in the lab

I am continuing my research into dimers at RGU though working with chiral dimers along with my project students and I am looking to work further on compounds exhibiting the ferroelectric nematic phase. This is still a relatively new area of research and there still many unanswered questions with regards to the optimal design for these materials and for tuning the properties of these compounds using structural modifications.

More widely I am excited to also get involved with projects along with other groups within the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences and elsewhere in an interdisciplinary manner to take advantage of my organic chemistry background.


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