liquid crystal, liquid whose component particles, atoms or molecules, tend to arrange themselves with a degree of order far exceeding that found in ordinary liquids and approaching that of solid crystals. As a result, liquid crystals have many of the optical properties of solid crystals. Moreover, since the order is not as firmly fixed as that of a solid crystal, it can be easily modified with corresponding changes in the optical properties; typically, a small electrical impulse darkens the crystal so that it is clearly visible against the lighter background of neutral crystals. An array of seven lozenges, each of which can be darkened by a separate impulse, can yield any digit. Thus, liquid crystal displays (LCDs) have become the most common means of producing visual readouts on such devices as digital clocks and electronic calculators. Some liquid crystals vary the color of the light that they reflect as their temperature changes. Since the colors reflected at any given temperature are quite specific, temperature can be measured by this means to an accuracy of 0.1°C.
See D. Dunmur and T. Sluckin, Soap, Science, and Flat-Screen TVs (2011).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.