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Development and Characterization of Liquid Crystal-Gold Nanoparticle Hybrid Materials for Optical Applications

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Hybrid material, mixtures of two or more materials with new properties, represents an exciting class of new materials for a variety of potential applications such as displays, optoelectronics, and sensors due to their unique physical and optical properties. The scope of this dissertation is to produce two new plasmonic applications by combining liquid crystals with gold nanoparticles. The first application is gold nanoparticle coated liquid crystal thin film. Most liquid crystal (LC) thin films require external voltage to reorient LC molecules. Recent advances in optical controlling technology of LC molecule behavior, resulting in the reduction of energy consumption, have stimulated research and development of new LC thin films. In order to re-orient LC molecules by just using light, the common approach is to include either a photo-responsive LC host, one that require high power light and severely narrows the range of usable materials, or add photo-active dye or polymer layer, photodegradation over time. Our work designing an all-optical method for LC re-orientation that overcomes all the limitations mentioned above. We have successfully both in- and out-of-plane spatial orientation of nematic liquid crystal (LC) molecules by leveraging the highly localized electric fields produced in the near-field regime of a gold nanoparticle (AuNP) layer. This re-orientation of LC molecules in thin LC-AuNP film is all-optical, driven by a small resonance excitation power with the localized surface plasmon absorption of the AuNPs at room temperature. The second application is LC mediated nano-assembled gold microcapsules. This application has a potential in controlled-release cargo-style delivery system. Targeted delivery systems with controlled release mechanisms have been the subject of extensive research more than fifty years. One is to control the release process remotely by using optical excitation. Optical actuation of delivery capsules, which plasmonic nanoparticle such as gold, allows rapid release at specific locations and uses the photothermal effect to unload contents. Almost all gold-based delivery applications including Au coated nanocrystals or AuNPs with soft materials like gels and polymers are not suitable for control release applications in real life since these applications do not provide robust leakage-free containment lower than the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) maximum permissible light exposure limit. We have successfully managed the difficulties mentioned above and produced a new gold-based delivery application. The application is spherical capsules with a densely packed wall of AuNPs. The rigid capsule wall allows encapsulation of cargo that can be contained, virtually leakage-free, over several months. Further, by leveraging LSPR of AuNPs, we can rupture the microshells using optical excitation with ultralow power ($<$ 2 mW), controllably and rapidly releasing the encapsulated contents in less than 5 seconds. Our results exhibiting the capture and optically regulated release of encapsulated substances are a novel platform that combines controlled-release cargo-style delivery and photothermal therapy in one versatile and multifunctional unit. Both our applications are overcoming current limitations and promising future research directions towards the next generation of LC-AuNPs hybrid material research and developments.

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