What’s on : Lectures

From Flat-screen TVs to Augmented Reality Devices: How Yorkshire Helped to Build the High-tech World of Today

3 Oct 2017
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Professor John Goodby and Dr Stephen Cowling
Goodby lecture

Event Information

Emeritus Professor John Goodby, University of York with Dr Stephen Cowling

Do you remember the old fashioned TVs packed with glowing and often faltering valves? In 1972 their path to obsolescence began with the invention of solid-state devices, and the realisation that the UK spent more money licensing cathode-ray technology for Radar from the USA than we did on the development of Concorde. An invention in Yorkshire proved to be crucial; underpinning the creation of the digital watch and even today’s “smart” flat screen TVs. On this technological journey other achievements in areas of plastic thermometers, telecommunication switches, video projectors, KevlarTM, and social media gave us new applications for the modern world. So where to now? We are on the threshold of virtual, augmented and mixed reality devices that could end our love with the mobile ‘phone within the next few years.

The invention? “Stable room temperature liquid crystals.” In this lecture, with the aid of demonstrations, we will introduce you to the magical world of liquid crystals. They are neither solid nor liquid, but a unique fourth and responsive state of matter.

Einstein once commented, “If at first an idea does not seem absurd, then there is no hope for it”. Today there are more liquid crystal displays (LCDs) in the world than there are people!

Member’s report

This introductory lecture on liquid crystals used practical demonstrations and video clips to demonstrate their unusual properties. Liquid crystals are a fourth state of matter between liquids and solids, whose properties can be controlled by magnetic, mechanical and electrical fields. They were discovered in 1888, but were not commercialised until 1972 when pioneering Hull chemist Professor George Gray, with York physicists, developed the first Liquid Crystal Displays. These were based on minute rod-like structures of cyanobiphenyls that rotated polarised light.

There are now more LCD’s on earth than people. They have largely replaced cathode ray tubes and are widely used in flat screen TVs, smart phones, watches and many other applications with broad societal impact. Modern developments include different shapes and chemical structures of LCs, optical fims, lubricants, and augmented reality devices.

Perhaps most surprising, liquid crystals are now known to be essential to living structures such as cells, muscles, and DNA.

Rod Leonard