Mesoscale martensitic transformation in single crystals of topological defects [Applied Physical Sciences]
Liquid-crystal blue phases (BPs) are highly ordered at two levels. Molecules exhibit orientational order at nanometer length scales, while chirality leads to ordered arrays of double-twisted cylinders over micrometer scales. Past studies of polycrystalline BPs were challenged by the existence of grain boundaries between randomly oriented crystalline nanodomains. Here, the nucleation of BPs is controlled with precision by relying on chemically nanopatterned surfaces, leading to macroscopic single-crystal BP specimens where the dynamics of mesocrystal formation can be directly observed. Theory and experiments show that transitions between two BPs having a different network structure proceed through local reorganization of the crystalline array, without diffusion of the double-twisted cylinders. In solid crystals, martensitic transformations between crystal structures involve the concerted motion of a few atoms, without diffusion. The transformation between BPs, where crystal features arise in the submicron regime, is found to be martensitic in nature when one considers the collective behavior of the double-twist cylinders. Single-crystal BPs are shown to offer fertile grounds for the study of directed crystal nucleation and the controlled growth of soft matter.