Bistable curvature potential at hyperbolic points of nematic shells

Sonnet, André M. and Virga, Epifanio G. (2017) Bistable curvature potential at hyperbolic points of nematic shells. Soft Matter, 13 (38). 6792 - 6802. ISSN 1744-6848 (

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Nematic shells are colloidal particles coated with nematic liquid crystal molecules which may freely glide and rotate on the colloid's surface while keeping their long axis on the local tangent plane. We describe the nematic order on a shell by a unit director field on an orientable surface. Equilibrium fields can then be found by minimising the elastic energy, which in general is a function of the surface gradient of the director field. We learn how to extract systematically out of this energy a fossil component, related only to the surface and its curvatures, which expresses a curvature potential for the molecular torque. At hyperbolic points on the colloid's surface, and only there, the alignment preferred by the curvature potential may fail to be a direction of principal curvature. There the fossil energy becomes bistable.