Date of Award

Spring 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Physics & Astronomy

First Advisor

Randall D. Kamien


Nonlinear elastic phenomena appear time and again in the world around us. This work considers two separate soft matter systems, instabilities in an elastic membrane perforated by a lattice of circular holes and defect textures in smectic liquid crystals. By studying the set of singularities characterizing each system, not only do the analytics become tractable, we gain intuition and insight into complex structures.

Under hydrostatic compression, the holes decorating an elastic sheet undergo a buckling instability and collapse. By modeling each of the buckled holes as a pair of dislocation singularities, linear elasticity theory accurately captures the interactions between holes and predicts the pattern transformation they undergo. The diamond plate pattern generated by a square lattice of holes achieves long ranged order due to the broken symmetry of the underlying lattice. The limited number of two dimensional lattices restricts the classes of patterns that can be produced by a flat sheet. By changing the topology of the membrane to a cylinder the types of accessible patterns vastly increases, from a chiral wrapped cylinder to pairs of holes alternating orientations to even more complex structures.

Equally spaced layered smectics introduce a plethora of geometric constraints yielding novel textures based upon topological defects. The frustration due to the incompatibility of molecular chirality and layers drives the formation of both the venerable twist-grain-boundary phase and the newly discovered helical nanofilament (HN) phase. The HN phase is a newly found solution of the chiral Landau-de Gennes free energy. Finally, we consider two limiting cases of the achiral Landau-de Gennes free energy, bending energy dominated allows defects in the layers and compression energy dominated enforces equally spaced layers. In order to minimize bending energy, smectic layers assume the morphology of minimal surfaces. Riemann's minimal surface is composed of a nonlinear sum of two oppositely handed screw dislocations and has the morphology of a pore. Likewise, focal conic domains result from enforcing the equal spacing condition. We develop an approach to the study of focal sets in smectics which exploits a hidden Poincaré symmetry revealed only by viewing the smectic layers as projections from one-higher dimension.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."