Learning by doing: it’s never too early!

Outreach at the Human Interactive Materials (H.I.M.) group has hit a growth spurt! Dr. Danqing Liu and her PhD students Mert Astam, Pengrong Lyu and Yuxin You are stepping up their science experience for kids aged 12 to 15. The group believed keeping kids aged 6 to 10 interested would be as tough as it gets, but keeping the attention of kids aged 12 to 15 was a whole new challenge! Yet, the veteran team of PhD students, decorated with experience and success in prior endeavors, never lacked confidence. With rigorous planning and brainstorming, a new TU/e-tailored experience took the more-demanding visitors on a journey through advanced interactive liquid crystal technologies. The customary can-do attitude of the team meant the event was yet another success! One could watch the indifferent expressions on the faces of our visitors, Olivier and Julius, slowly turn into thoughtful gazes and “eureka” smiles by the end of the science experience.

The science experience started with a lab safety introduction with (literally) sweet rewards. Our visitors learnt very quickly, and even answered some trick questions that Professor Dick Broer missed out on! The well-briefed visitors were then introduced to 3D-printing technology. Yet, the knowledge our visitors already had was astounding, with both Julius and Olivier producing complex forms with little to no input from the PhD team. The PhD students understood there and then that they needed to take the science a step higher! The visitors were then introduced to 4D printing of liquid crystals, which indeed sparked their interest. “It is amazing to see plastic move on its own!” remarked Olivier, as he tested our low-temperature liquid crystal elastomer actuators. The curiosity of our visitors was piqued to the point the PhD team was teaching them various liquid crystal principles, which consisted of pretty tough physics! But the learning experience was not limited to theory, skills ranging from optical microscopy to soldering were learnt as Oliver and Julius got to see their new knowledge in action with our custom smart window set-ups. Oliver and Julius dove into this activity and tested the reaction of the smart windows to different parameters and circuits. The day flew by with experiment and application ideas flying from brother to brother.

By the end of the day, something very special was waiting for our visitors. As a reward for being such great students, the PhD team had prepared some very special gifts for them to take home. The centerpiece of the scientific gifts for Julius and Olivier was a liquid crystal cell where the liquid crystals were perfectly aligned to a portray a photograph of them! Our visitors were very impressed with this gift and immediately went to investigate them with polarizing films, witnessing their image appear and disappear. Mert commented, “it is fantastic to see the interest our research can spark in the younger generations.” Indeed, it is “very promising for the future of liquid crystal research,” remarked Danqing. Our visitors made it clear that they would be very interested in visiting us again. The brothers said they “would be interested to visit again to see what new stuff we come up with!”  The entire outreach team was very happy to hear this. Danqing and her team are looking to keep expanding the scope our their science experience to further encourage such success stories for the future of the TU/e!

Correspondence by Mert O. Astam

What Oliver and Julius look like as liquid crystals!
Professor Dick Broer holds up the molecule he invented as he teaches his grandchildren about liquid crystal theory.
Julius hard at work to fix the electronics that Mert broke.
Julius and Olivier putting our smart windows under an endurance test
Julius and Olivier carry out a close investigation together with the PhD team