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Liquid Crystal Polymers

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*5/14/2012

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“Liquid 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[1]. 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.

Today, LCPs can be melt-processed on conventional equipment at high speeds with excellent replication of mold details. In fact, the high ease of forming of LCPs is an important competitive advantage against other plastics, as it offsets high raw material cost.[2]

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. LCP has a high Z-axis coefficient of thermal expansion.

LCPs are exceptionally inert. They resist stress cracking in the presence of most chemicals at elevated temperatures, including aromatic or halogenated hydrocarbons, strong acids, bases, ketones, and other aggressive industrial substances. Hydrolytic stability in boiling water is excellent. Environments that deteriorate the polymers are high-temperature steam, concentrated sulfuric acid, and boiling caustic materials.”

(Wikipedia, Liquid Crystal Polymers, 5/14/2012)

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“Thermotropic liquid crystals are generally crystalline compounds with significant anisotropy in shape. That is, at the molecular level, they are characterized by a rod-like or disc like structure. When heated they typically melt in a stepwise manner, exhibiting one or more thermal transitions from a crystal to a final isotropic phase. The intermediate phases, known as mesophases, can include several types of smectic phases wherein the molecules are generally confined to layers; and a nematic phase wherein the molecules are aligned parallel to one another with no long range positional order. The liquid crystal phase can be achieved in a heating cycle, or can be arrived at in cooling from an isotropic phase. A comprehensive description of the structure of liquid crystals in general, and twisted nematic liquid crystals in particular, is given in "The Physics of Liquid Crystals," P. G. de Gennes and J. Prost, Oxford University Press, 1995.

An important variant of the nematic phase is one wherein a chiral moiety is present therein, referred to as a twisted nematic, chiral nematic, or cholesteric phase. In this case, the molecules are parallel to each other as in the nematic phase, but the director of molecules (the average direction of the rodlike molecules) changes direction through the thickness of a layer to provide a helical packing of the nematic molecules. The pitch of the helix is perpendicular to the long axes of the molecules. This helical packing of anisotropic molecules leads to important and characteristic optical properties of twisted nematic phases including circular dichroism, a high degree of rotary power; and the selective reflection of light, including ultraviolet, visible, and near-IR light. Reflection in the visible region leads to brilliantly colored layers. The sense of the helix can either be right-handed or left-handed, and the rotational sense is an important characteristic of the material. The chiral moiety either may be present in the liquid crystalline molecule itself, for instance, as in a cholesteryl ester, or can be added to the nematic phase as a dopant, leading to induction of the cholesteric phase. This phenomenon is well documented, as discussed for example in H. Bassler and M. M. Labes, J. Chem. Phys., 52, 631 (1970).”

[Goldfinger and Qi, US Patent 8,137,582 (3/20/2012)]

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Copyright 2012 by Roger D. Corneliussen.
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* Date of latest addition; date of first entry is 5/14/2012.