Liquid Polymers

liquid-polymersLiquid crystallinity in polymers may occur either by dissolving a polymer in a solvent (lyotropic liquid-crystal polymers) or by heating a polymer above its glass or melting transition point (thermotropic liquid-crystal polymers). Liquid-crystal polymers are present in melted/liquid or solid form. In solid form the main example of lyotropic LCPs is the commercial aramid known as Kevlar. Chemical structure of this aramid consists of linearly substituted aromatic rings linked by amide groups. In a similar way, several series of thermotropic LCPs have been commercially produced by several companies (e.g., Vectran / Ticona).

A high number of LCPs, produced in the 1980s, displayed order in the melt phase analogous to that exhibited by nonpolymeric liquid crystals. Processing of LCPs from liquid-crystal phases (or mesophases) gives rise to fibers and injected materials having high mechanical properties as a consequence of the self-reinforcing properties derived from the macromolecular orientation in the mesophase.

A unique class of partially crystalline aromatic polyesters based on p-hydroxybenzoic acid and related monomers, liquid-crystal polymers are capable of forming regions of highly ordered structure while in the liquid phase. However, the degree of order is somewhat less than that of a regular solid crystal. Typically LCPs have a high mechanical strength at high temperatures, extreme chemical resistance, inherent flame retardancy, and good weatherability. Liquid-crystal polymers come in a variety of forms from sinterable high temperature to injection moldable compounds. LCP can be welded, though the lines created by welding are a weak point in the resulting product.

Because of their various properties, LCPs are useful for electrical and mechanical parts, food containers, and any other applications requiring chemical inertness and high strength. LCP is particularly attractive for microwave frequency electronics due to low relative dielectric constants, low dissipation factors, and commercial availability of laminates. Packaging Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) is another area that LCP has recently gained more attention

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High Strength Fibers

An application of polymer liquid crystals that has been successfully developed for industry is the area of high strength fibers. Kevlar, which is used to make such things as helmets and bullet-proof vests, is just one example of the use of polymer liquid crystals in applications calling for strong, light weight materials.


Optical Applications:

The use of polymer liquid crystals in the display industry is an exciting area of research. At this time, PLC’s demonstrate relatively slow “response times” to electric fields. That is, when a field is applied, the molecules take a long time to align along it. This is not a good property for use in displays where the screen must be able to change rapidly from one view to another. Researchers are working to overcome this problem because the manipulation of polymers is often much easier than traditional liquid crystals.

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