Colloquium: Phase transitions in polymers and liquids in electric fields

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The structure and thermodynamic state of a system changes under the influence of external electric fields. Neutral systems are characterized by their dielectric constant ε, while charged ones also by their charge distribution. In this Colloquium several phenomena occurring in soft-matter systems in spatially uniform and nonuniform fields are surveyed and the role of the conductivity σ and the linear or nonlinear dependency of ε on composition are identified. Uniform electric fields are responsible for elongation of droplets, for destabilization of interfaces between two liquids, and for mixing effects in liquid mixtures. Electric fields, when acting on phases with mesoscopic order, also give rise to block-copolymer orientation, to destabilization of polymer-polymer interfaces, and to order-order phase transitions. The role of linear and nonlinear dependences of ε on composition will be elucidated in these systems. In addition to the dielectric anisotropy, existence of a finite conductivity leads to appearance of large stresses when these systems are subject to external fields and usually to a reduction in the voltages required for the instabilities or phase transitions to occur. Finally, phase transitions which occur in nonuniform fields are described and emphasis on the importance of ε and σ is given.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1471-1494
Number of pages24
JournalReviews of Modern Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 21 Oct 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy (all)


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