Bob Lemieux, award-winning professor and organic chemist
As a scientist, Bob Lemieux is in the business of creating new knowledge – in his case, in the area of liquid crystals. The field is known for its applications in flat-panel technology, including televisions and mobile devices, which use liquid crystal displays (LCDs).
While these final applications are on Dr. Lemieux’s mind during the research phase, they are not his primary focus. As an organic chemist, he works at the molecular level, trying to understand from a chemist’s perspective how the structure of certain molecules affect their liquid crystalline properties. His research team, the Lemieux Group, is one of only a handful of teams around the world who synthesize new liquid crystal materials and study their properties as potential LCD components.
“It’s exciting work because we’re making new discoveries, working at the edge. We try to understand things that are still not understood very well,” says Dr. Lemieux.
Liquid crystal molecules exist in an intermediate state – they are neither solids nor liquids, but somewhere in between. Dr. Lemieux works on understanding the relationship between structure and properties of these compounds. He compares his work to making soup, because liquid crystal materials used in LCD devices are mixtures of at least a dozen different compounds, not all of which are liquid crystalline. Twenty years ago, his team started working on the spices – the non-liquid crystalline additives introduced to a liquid crystal mixture that make it “responsive,” that allow a LCD to be switched ON and OFF, for example. Now, they are working on the broth – the base, or the liquid crystalline components of the mixture.
“It’s curiosity–driven work. We often know where we’re headed but the path there is not always straight. It’s not unusual to find something completely different than what was expected.”
And therein lies the secret, Dr. Lemieux says, to being a successful scientist: recognizing when something strange happens and understanding how that unusual behaviour could be used elsewhere. That’s where the new knowledge emerges.
Earlier this year, Dr. Lemieux was honoured for his pursuit of new knowledge by the International Liquid Crystal Society with the Samsung Mid-Career Award. The award recognizes the contributions of mid-career researchers for advancements in science and/or technology in the field of liquid crystals.