Scientists begin to understand properties of liquid “living” crystals with bacteria

Using bacteria to make ‘living’ liquid crystals so that they can work in a relatively autonomous way is a curious idea. For some years now, there has been a great deal of interest in these materials, but they have proven to be so complex that the scientists themselves are trying to understand how they generate movement within themselves. Now a group of researchers from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago have shown that such a liquid crystal system can become active and messy by making different structures.

A discovery that is not only aesthetic: this research can indeed be an important step in understanding how “living” liquid crystals can be controlled and how best to use them. Juan de Pablo, Professor of Molecular Engineering and author of the research, states: “The origin of these instabilities has been the subject of much discussion, and now we really understand how this process works, which will ultimately lead to control over how this material behaves.”

According to Pablo himself, the level of instability increases over time until it reaches a point where the system itself is completely disrupted. Now it is hoped to be able to use this information to create and control “living” liquid crystals that, for example, can be useful as a microfluidic device for the transport of liquids without the use of pumps or a pressure system.

“We have a real chance to control these materials and use them for interesting new technologies,” says Pablo himself.

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Martin Hill

An accomplished journalist and freelancer, Martin has held a long career in media and has worked for numerous different agencies. He was an editor for the Arizona Business Gazette for over 10 years before joining the Tucson Weekly ( and founding Home of Science, a new publication with the aim of reporting on science news over the internet. Beyond having extensive writing and research experience, Martin is also a science enthusiast with a passion for science and technology. In his younger life, he had studied mechanical engineering before moving on to journalism.
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Martin Hill