Thursday, 17 March 2016

British Science Week: Science in the Archives Thursday

Today’s British Science Week blog looks at the technological application of scientific developments through the work of the Hull Liquid Crystals Research Group.


The Hull Liquid Crystals and Advanced Materials Research Group has its origins with the interest of two men, Sir Brynmor Jones and his protégé Professor George Gray. Jones, a professor at the University of Hull, had become interested in the area of liquid crystals research whilst working at the University of Sheffield. Aware of the research interests of a young student of Glasgow University, Jones was instrumental in bringing George Gray to Hull to work in the area of organic chemistry.

George Gray in the Chemistry lab at Hull University, 1979

Gray undertook and completed his PhD at Hull and went on to focus on research into the structure and properties of liquid crystal materials. At a time when interest in this area was waning, Gray didn’t give up. Before funding completely dried up he compiled all he knew into the first definitive text on the subject to be published in the UK in 1962.

Samples from Gray's work up to the 1960s

Towards the end of the 1960s the Ministry of Defense became interested in the technological applications of liquid crystals. Gray was recognised as a leading figure in the field and was able to secure grant money to undertake MoD contracted research at Hull. The research undertaken at Hull led to the development of room-temperature stable liquid crystals known as cyanobiphenyls in 1972. This development made liquid crystal display technology viable, and the group’s findings were published in 1973.

Lab equipment used by Gray and sample technology using LCD technology developed at Hull  

Early applications of the liquid crystal research being conducted in Hull included the development of the digital watch display, the calculator and early electronic games. Liquid crystal display technology was also used in the screen of the first MacBook, and went on to form the basis for all LCD-driven screen technologies. Laptops, tablets, flat screen TVs and many more electronic display devices would not have been possible without the scientific research conducted at the University of Hull.

The records of the Hull Liquid Crystal and Advanced Materials Research Group, held here at the History Centre, tell the story of this internationally significant scientific development.

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist

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