Indexed on: 16 Oct '15Published on: 16 Oct '15Published in: Physical review. E, Statistical, nonlinear, and soft matter physics
The electric Freedericksz transition is a second-order quadratic effect, which, in a planarly aligned nematic liquid crystal layer, manifests above a threshold field as a homogeneous symmetric distortion with maximum director-tilt in the midplane. We find that, upon excitation by a low frequency (<0.2Hz) square-wave field, the instability becomes spatially and temporally varying. This is demonstrated using calamitic liquid crystals, initially in the 90°-twisted planar configuration. The distortion occurs close to the negative electrode following each polarity switch and, for low-voltage amplitudes, decays completely in time. We use the elastically favorable geometry of Brochard-Leger walls to establish the location of maximum distortion. Thus, at successive polarity changes, the direction of extension of both annular and open walls switches between the alignment directions at the two substrates. For high voltages, this direction is largely along the midplane director, while remaining marginally oscillatory. These results are broadly understood by taking into account the time-varying and inhomogeneous field conditions that prevail soon after the polarity reverses. Polarity dependence of the instability is traced to the formation of intrinsic double layers that lead to an asymmetry in field distribution in the presence of an external bias. Momentary field elevation near the negative electrode following a voltage sign reversal leads to locally enhanced dielectric and gradient flexoelectric torques, which accounts for the surface-like phenomenon observed at low voltages. These spatiotemporal effects, also found earlier for other instabilities, are generic in nature.