Big quote: "The whole experience resembles the nerdiest acid trip since Steve Jobs took LSD."
Liquid crystal displays are nothing new. In fact, the technology just turned 50-years-old this month having been invented by George Heilmeier in May 1968. The liquid crystals that make the technology possible have been around as long as life itself. Despite having been studied for decades, very little footage of liquid crystals in action exists.
However, musician Max Cooper stumbled upon some footage of the substance taken under microscopic magnification by researcher Ben Outram. He used the film to promote his music, and while I can’t say I’m a fan of his tunes, the video is mesmerizing.
The swirling color-changing substance phase shifts as it is acted upon by electricity.
“Most people are familiar with phase transitions like between ice and water, and water and steam,” Outram told Digital Trends. “In some materials, which are common in biological systems, there exist extra phases of matter called liquid crystals. Unlike water, they are fluids that have some crystal symmetry properties. This combination of fluidity and structure results in mesmerizing visuals under a polarizing optical microscope. They are especially beautiful when they undergo phase transitions, where what you are seeing is the rapid self-assembly of matter between different flowing structures: a process that is reflected in the cells of every living organism since the origin of life.”
Outram is a researcher at Oxford and Leeds Universities. Liquid crystals were his object of study for his PhD. He says that for practical purposes, the tech industry uses LCs with predictable properties under specific conditions. This is why the color output on every LCD by the same manufacturer is identical.
However, Outram is more interested in the more unpredictable results like those seen in the video.
“The kinds of structures useful for science and technology tend to be uniform, controlled, stationary, and boring,” he said. “[My photography is about] taking the liquid crystals into conditions that are outside of their use in technology.”
Outram has produced scores of photos of liquid crystals, which he has posted to his website. The images are beautiful, and many look like they were taken straight from a Mandelbrot Set. His pictures will be the subject of a book that he is writing for the Institute of Physics.