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On the critical thickness of a twisted nematic cell

A. Strigazzi

To cite this version:

A. Strigazzi. On the critical thickness of a twisted nematic cell. Journal de Physique, 1985, 46 (9),
pp.1507-1512. �10.1051/jphys:019850046090150700�. �jpa-00210096�

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J. Physique 46 (1985) 1507-1512 SEPTEMBRE 1985, 1507

Physics Abstracts

On the critical thickness of a twisted nematic cell (*)

A. Strigazzi
Dipartimento di Fisica, Politecnico, C. so Duca degli Abruzzi, 24, I-10129 Torino, Italy
and Facoltà di Medicina Veterinarea, Università, Torino, Italy

(Reçu le 3 décembre 1984, accepté le 30 avril 1985)

Résumé. Dans le cadre de la théorie du continuum nous avons calculé l’épaisseur critique d’une cellule némati-

que enprésence de déformation de torsion, et obtenu sa variation en fonction de la constante élastique de torsion
et des conditions d’ancrage pour une inclination nulle. En outre, le cas d’inclinations identiques aux deux parois
a été étudié dans l’hypothèse d’une constante élastique unique. Nous avons montré que l’épaisseur critique ne

dépend pas des constantes élastiques en volume de type surface, et nous avons calculé analytiquement l’angle de
torsion aux parois pour une cellule mince d’épaisseur voisine de l’épaisseur critique. Nous avons également analysé
le cas particulier d’une cellule avec des conditions d’ancrage identiques sur les deux parois.

Abstract. The critical thickness of a twisted nematic cell is predicted in the framework of the continuum theory,

and its dependence on the twist elastic constant and on the twist anchoring conditions is deduced in the absence
of pretilt Moreover, the presence of a pretilt identical on both substrates is considered, but with the restriction
of a single elastic constant Furthermore, the rigorous independence of the critical thickness of the surface-like
volume elasticities is shown and the twist angles at the walls are analytically obtained for the cell thickness close
to the critical one. The particular case of equal anchoring on both sides is also discussed

1. Introduction. of small tilt angles in a TN-cell, but with the restriction

of constant tilt through the NLC film, and calculated
It is well known that the Schadt-Helfrich mode [1],
merit figures for electro-optical response.
consisting in a reorientation of a twisted nematic (TN) All these works dealt with the case of strong anchor-
structure due to an electric field parallel to the ,helix
axis [2], is a suitable effect for obtaining electro-optical
ing. Ryschenkow and K16man for the first time
studied the presence of surface defects related to low
conversion with low threshold and no hysteresis.
anchoring energy in very thin cells, observing the
Actually, most nematic liquid crystal (NLC) displays existence of Bloch walls in specimens thinner than the
are based on the Schadt-Helfrich mode, which has
been studied in the last years by several authors,
extrapolation length [13], but they did not consider
the problem from the point of view of the possible
obtaining for a TN-cell the distortion equation in the degeneracy of a TN structure.
presence of an electric field [3], the transmittance [4] Berreman [14] calculated numerically the TN-cell
and the capacitance [5] vs. voltage, and the optical
dynamics in the case of weak anchoring (but only
activity [6] ; moreover, a molecular orientation model with respect to the tilt angle), starting from two forms
in the presence of an electric field has been given by
Berreman [7] and verified by Kaye [8].
(one of which was asymmetrical) of the surface energy
and finding that a separate viscosity must accompany
Furthermore, Baur [9] gave a review of the optical surface elasticity. Nehring et al. [15] were the first
characteristic of TN-displays, Kahn et al. [10] discussed ones to consider the static deformation due to an
the multiplexing limits and van Doom et al. [11]
electric field in a TN-cell with weak anchoring cou-
studied the effect of the material and device para-
meters on the optical transition-voltage curve. Birecki
pling, but only with respect to the tilt angle, and equal
on both cell sides, in the isotropic elasticity restriction,
et al. [12] proposed a retardation extrema method
giving the electro-optical response of the TN-cell.
regarding propagating light for accurate measurement Recently, Yang [16] improved Nehring’s approach,
considering unequal elastic constants and a general
NLC-substrate symmetrical interaction, but always

Article published online by EDP Sciences and available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/jphys:019850046090150700


as a function of the tilt angle only. He gives a numerical

computation of the threshold for Freedericksz’ tran-
sition in the case of negligible pretilt angle.
The importance of preselecting and knowing the
actual total twist angle of a TN-display has been
pointed out by Kaye [17], recognizing that a consi-
derably loss of contrast can be achieved if the actual
twist angle deviates from the design value.
Thus, it appears of fundamental and practical
concern to analyse the effect of a weak anchoring
on the twist angle in a TN-cell in the absence of external
fields in order to investigate the existence of a critical
thickness limiting a TN-cell construction, in the sense
that a TN-cell with thickness lower than the critical
one can not be made, resulting necessarily in a planar
homogeneous (P) cell [ 18], if the pretilt angle is zero.
The purpose of the present paper is to describe the
critical thickness of a TN-cell as a function of both
NLC involved elasticity and twist anchoring strengths,
in the case of strong tilt anchoring and no pretilt,
Fig. 1. A 900-TN-cell with a Cartesian frame (xyz) having

and to calculate the twist angles at the walls for the cell
the z-axis normal to the cell plates and easy directions at
thickness close to the critical one. The effect of a the walls 0, = 0 (for z =
0), Od 90° (for z d). The weak
= =

pretilt identical on both substrates in the single elastic anchoring on the wall planes implies that the actual twist
constant hypothesis and the situation of equal twist
angles on both sides are (fJo > 0 and (Pd 90°. If there would
anchoring strength are also discussed. be present also a splay-bend distortion, the director n(z)
would be characterized not only by an anomaly T (measured
2. Theory. from the x-axis), but also by a co-azimuth 0 (measured from
the plane (xy)). A symmetry in the anchoring would give
By discussing Frank’s approach to the continuum qY =
450, 0 0 at the centre of the cell.

theory of liquid crystals [19], Nehring and Saupe

[20-21] showed that the free energy density of the bulk
distortion in a NLC can be expressed as

and can be expressed as well as a function of the

observable K11 and of K13. Both mixed splay-bend
where the director n is a unit vector giving the local and saddle-splay, being divergence terms, have a
average orientation of the molecule long axis, K’11 surface-like character and do not enter in the Euler-
and K’33 are the effective elastic constants for splay Lagrange equation describing the director profile
and bend respectively, K22 is the twist elastic constant, of a NLC cell [28], but affect only the boundary
K13 is the mixed splay-bend elastic constant [21], conditions, whereas the square bracket terms in
and K24 is the saddle-splay elastic constant [19]. equation (1) represent the true volume behaviour
The parameters K’11, K’33 are related to the true splay and thus can be called principal elasticities of the NLC.
and bend elastic constants K11, K33 in the following Let us consider a 900-TN-cell with thickness
way : By introducing a convenient Cartesian frame of
reference with the z-axis normal to the cell plates and
a polar frame (T, 0) -

see figure 1, the equations of the

NLC boundaries are z 0, z = d. In the absence of

external fields (off-state), by supposing the anchoring

It should be noted that the classical optical [22-23] to be weak only in the (x, y) plane, a pure twist dis-
and dielectrical [24-25] experimental methods (for tortion arises in the cell, if there is no pretilt at the
a review, see for instance ref. [26]) only give proper walls.
K’11, K’33, since no methods have been found at In fact, the saddle-splay term is zero since the
present to give accurate measurements of K13, but problem is one-dimensional [28], and if a splay-bend
only to get an upper limit for K13 [27]. Also K24 is distortion would be present, equation (1) should be
at present unknown because it is given by the rela- written as :

where T(z) and 8(z) are the twist and the tilt angles of the director, respectively, and the dot means the derivative
with respect to z. Hence the free energy of the whole cell due to the bulk deformation is given by :

by taking into account the boundary conditions for the tilt angles, i.e. 8(z 0) 8(z d) 0.
= = = =

This means that the critical thickness of the cell we will derive is rigorously independent of both K13 and K24.
Moreover, since in equation (5) only quadratic forms are present, a minimal value of Fb is obtained if 0 = 8 = 0
in the whole cell, giving

In fact, the Euler-Lagrange equations giving the minimum of the bulk free energy Fb in terms of qJ, 0 are obtained
as :

where a, p are the elastic anisotropies, defined as a - 1 K’33/K22 and p == 1 K’33/K’11.

- -

By simple inspection, 0 0 is a particular solution of the second equation of system (7) for any T(z). Hence

the unique Euler-Lagrange equation related to the whole cell is simply § Const. and the free energy of the

TN-cell is given by

where CPo T(z 0), T, = T(z c) and Fso, FSd

=- = = are the surface terms depending only on the anchoring
strengths. By assuming a sine-square model [29] :

where wo, wd are the anchoring anisotropies and 00 0, Od 900 are the easy directions at the cell walls, we
= =

can deduce the actual values of To, Td minimizing F(lfJo, lfJd) with respect to both parameters. From equations (8),

(9) we get :

where Lo22, Ld22 are de Gennes-Kl6man7s extrapolation The system (11) gets a non trivial solution for CPo, Td
lengths for z =
0,= d, respectively [30-31].
z only if the determinant of the coefficients is zero,
If there is a critical thickness dc for the TN-cell, i. e. if
it is a lower limit for the range of the possible d-values,
occurring when the boundary condition on one plate
imposes a planar homogeneous texture to the whole allowing us to obtain the critical thickness of the
cell, with actual alignment qJ 00 = 0 everywhere.
= TN-cell.
Thus, dc =1= 0 is expected only if wo # wd. Furthermore, with the aim of calculating the values
of (POI Td for a TN-cell with thickness d close to dc,
Let us suppose that wo > wd, e.g. Lo22 Ld22 :
a critical thickness dc > 0 is expected, such that it is it is necessary to expand the system (10) to third order
in the parameters To, CPd’ obtaining
possible to construct a TN-cell only with d greater
than d,, whereas for d dc the cell becomes a P-layer.
When 4 remaining greater than d,, tends to the
critical value, so qJ d -+ go - 0. Hence, it is possible
to linearize the system (10), obtaining
By putting p2 = T2 d + Td TO + po, we can deduce
from the system (13) :

and, if CPd #= CPo #= 0 but d is close to d,, the anchoring

ratio x = Ld 22/Lo22 becomes equal to the twist angles
ratio at the walls :

Thus from equation (14) we get

where x is given from equation (15).

The fact that the twist angles at the walls (po, Td
are proportional to (1 - dc/d)1/2 for d close to dc,

implies that the TN-P transition is of the second order,

since this square root-like behaviour is a general
property of instabilities close to a second-order
transition (such as Freedericksz’ and hybrid alignment
transitions [32]).
For instance, in the case of a TN-cell with thickness
d= 5.0 gm and the extrapolated distances Lo22 0.5 um, =

L22 5.0 gm, we obtain dc 4.5 gm and x 10,

= = =

getting qYo = 2.1 °, lfJd 21 ° ; whereas a cell with the

same values four 4 Ld22 and with L022 0.05 um gives

dc = 4.95 gM x 100,
= and eventually To - 0.1 °,
Td 7.0°.
The maximal error of equation (16) in the worst
situation, occurring for the calculation of 9d in the
limit x - oo if did 0.90 is of the order of - 10 %,
= Fig. 2. -

Twist angles Ti at the cell walls (i 0, d) computed


whereas To is affected by an error of - 5 % for the vs. the anchoring ratio x =- La/L° (x > 1) for two different
same value of dcld but in the symmetrical limit x - 1.
ratios dld between the critical and the actual thickness
In figure 2 the typical behaviour of T, (i 0, d) vs.
(dc/d 0.90, 0.99). The dashed lines represent the exact

values (pi(X) for dld 0.90 computed by solving numerically


the anchoring ratio x, as given by equation (16), is

equation (10), whereas the continuous lines give the approxi-
shown and compared with the exact values of mated solutions (16). For dld 0.99 the exact values

(pi(X, dc/d) numerically computed from equa- Ti(X) are indistinguishable from the approximated ones.
tions (10). On the other hand, by considering now the Actually, (p, is proportional to (1 - dc/d)1/2. Note that
case of equal anchoring on both sides wo wd = w,
(po(X) goes asymptotically to zero for X -+ oo, whereas
the reduced free energy Flw of the TN-cell becomes (fJd(X) tends to Td 22.20 if dld 0.90, and to Td 7.00
= = =

if dld 0.99. Conversely, for x - 1 we deduce Td -+ (Po -


12.8° in the first case, Td -+ (fJo -+ 4.0° in the latter one. The
maximal error in the worst situation (dc/d 0.90, X -+ oo, ,

evaluation of Td) is ~10 %.

which can be minimized with respect to (po, (Pd,
obtaining either
value (Pmin which can minimize Flw, such as :

In figure 4 (pmin 0 is reported as a function of L 22/d,

If the statement (18) is true, with the corresponding values of Fm’n /w. Note that
equation (17) gives
(po > 450 is not allowed, because L22/d would become
negative. This limitation ensures that the solution of
whereas, if ({Jo, (Pd are complementary, we deduce equation (22) always gets a minimal F/w, and that
F min /W 1/2 (see Fig. 4). In conclusion, equal
anchoring conditions on both sides give no critical
thickness if L22 :A 0, but the director twist angles at
The behaviour of the reduced free energy (21) as a the walls are farther from the easy directions the lower
function of go is represented in figure 3 for different the reduced anchoring strength, remaining com-
values of the reduced extrapolation length L221d plementary, and reaching asymptotically the value
Of course, if equation (21) is verified, go assumes the qJo =(Pd 450 for infinitely low reduced anchoring.

Fig. 4.-

Minimal values of the reduced free energy Fmin /w

of the TN-cell (continuous line) and stable values of the
twist angle cp0min (dashed line) vs. the reduced extrapolation
length L22/d in the case of equal anchoring on both sides.
Note that always Fmin /w 1/2, implying that (p,, 90° - qYo ,

and 0° min 45°.

Note that equation (25) is formally identical with

equation (8), K cos2 00 corresponding to K22 : there-
Fig. 3. Reduced free energy F/w of the TN-cell as a function

fore, the critical thickness d,,’ of a TN-cell with constant

of the twist angle qJo for different values of the reduced tilt is related to the critical thickness dc given by
extrapolation length L22/d in the case of equal anchoring equation (12) in the following way :
on both sides (L22/d 0,0.1,1.0,5.0,10). Note that the curves

present one minimum, increasing with the extrapolation

length from qJo 0 (if L22/d = 0) to qYo 45o (if L22/d-+oo).
= =

In other words, the presence of a constant tilt reduces

the critical thickness of a TN-cell due to a weak twist
anchoring : the pretilt acts as well as increasing the
Let us consider now the more actual case where a twisting power of the NLC layer.
pretilt exists but it is identical on both sides, eo ed = Of course, if d d,’ a tilted homogeneous texture
being the easy tilt directions at the walls, and the tilt arises in the cell, with 0 =
00 and T 0 everywhere.

anchoring is strong, giving 00 = 0(0) 0(d) Oo. = = But a pretilt will also impose the cell contrast to
We restrict ourselves to analyse the problem in the become lower [11], resulting practically in a com-
hypothesis of one elastic constant, simpler to treat petition in choosing 00 great enough to make d’c
and sufficient to give information about the actual smaller, and small enough to obtain a good contrast
Such an hypothesis gives a = fl = 0 : hence equa-
3. Conclusions.
tion (5) yields
In this paper the existence of a critical thickness for
a TN cell with weak twist anchoring has been deduced,
and the actual values assumed by the twist angles at
the walls have been analytically calculated close to
and the Euler-Lagrange equations take the form the critical situation. In addition, such parameters
are demonstrated to be independent of the surface-like
bulk elasticities. Moreover, equation (12), obtained
by supposing the pretilt angle to be zero, shows that
the critical thickness degenerates to zero only if the
From the tilt boundary condition, we have 0 00 = twist anchoring is either strong or equally weak
everywhere; hence, the Euler-Lagrange equations on both surfaces, as well as in the case of a hybrid
are uncoupled, and the cell free energy is obtained as aligned nematic cell [33]. But in the case of equal

anchoring on both sides, the lower the reduced surface the reliability of the anchoring procedure becomes
energy, the greater are the twist angles distortions a relevant parameter for the TN-display quality,
from the easy directions at the walls, and the cell and the anchoring strengths at both walls should be
degenerates to a planar homogeneous orientation for equal and sufficiently high. A pretilt will decrease the
reduced anchoring energy very small. Furthermore, critical thickness too. Furthermore, from equa-
equation (26), deduced in the single elastic constant tions (16) it is possible to evaluate both the actual rota-
hypothesis by supposing a pretilt different from zero tory power and the actual extinction of a TN-cell put
and equal on both cell sides shows that the pretilt between parallel polarizers during the off-state [34],
plays the role of an intrinsic twisting power. These allowing us to predict the display contrast. But the
facts are of great practical concern, since a TN-display higher the pretilt, the lower the contrast : thus a
must have fast response (and thus must be constructed compromise must be found between the requirements
as thin as possible) and well defined total twist (and of reducing the critical thickness and enchancing the
thus must be correctly anchored) : consequently, optical performance of the display.


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