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Tunable colloid trajectories in nematic liquid crystals near wavy walls.


The ability to dictate the motion of microscopic objects is an important challenge in fields ranging from materials science to biology. Field-directed assembly drives microparticles along paths defined by energy gradients. Nematic liquid crystals, consisting of rod-like molecules, provide new opportunities in this domain. Deviations of nematic liquid crystal molecules from uniform orientation cost elastic energy, and such deviations can be molded by bounding vessel shape. Here, by placing a wavy wall in a nematic liquid crystal, we impose alternating splay and bend distortions, and define a smoothly varying elastic energy field. A microparticle in this field displays a rich set of behaviors, as this system has multiple stable states, repulsive and attractive loci, and interaction strengths that can be tuned to allow reconfigurable states. Microparticles can transition between defect configurations, move along distinct paths, and select sites for preferred docking. Such tailored landscapes have promise in reconfigurable systems and in microrobotics applications.

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