Professor Hirst is the author of “Fundamentals of Soft Matter Science”
Fundamentals of Soft Matter Science introduces and explores the scientific study of soft matter and molecular self-assembly, covering the major classifications of materials, their structure and characteristics, and everyday applications.
The design and development of multifunctional composite materials from artificial nano-constituents is one of the most compelling current research areas. This drive to improve over nature and produce ‘meta-materials’ has met with some success, but results have proven limited with regards to both the demonstration of synergistic functionalities and in the ability to manipulate the material properties post-fabrication and in situ. Here, magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) and semiconducting quantum dots (QDs) are co-assembled in a nematic liquid crystalline (LC) matrix, forming composite structures in which the emission intensity of the quantum dots is systematically and reversibly controlled with a small applied magnetic field (<100 mT). This magnetic field-driven brightening, ranging between a two- to three-fold peak intensity increase, is a truly cooperative effect: the LC phase transition creates the co-assemblies, the clustering of the MNPs produces LC re-orientation at atypical low external field, and this re-arrangement produces compaction of the clusters, resulting in the detection of increased QD emission. These results demonstrate a synergistic, reversible, and an all-optical process to detect magnetic fields and additionally, as the clusters are self-assembled in a fluid medium, they offer the possibility for these sensors to be used in broad ranging fluid-based applications.