Helen University of Leeds UK

Title presentation: Looking through a liquid crystal  ball - making old eyes young.

Prof. Helen F. Gleeson moved to Leeds in 2015 to take up the Cavendish Chair in Physics after spending the majority of her career at the University of Manchester. She is currently the Head of School. Her research concerns self-ordering and self-assembling materials, particularly liquid crystal phases. She’s an experimentalist and uses a variety of approaches to understand liquid crystal structures - aiming to determine how the nanoscale properties of complex molecules affect their macroscopic physics. An important part of her research is to understand how liquid crystals can be used for novel applications. Her work has led to the invention of switchable contact lenses in which the voltage-induced change in refractive index of the liquid crystal lens element causes a change in focus, equivalent to putting on reading glasses! Most recently she jointly discovered a new property of liquid crystal elastomers – that they are auxetic (have negative Poisson’s ratio), meaning that they become thicker rather than thinner when stretched!

Helen’s work has been recognized by the Hilsum and Gray Medals from the British Liquid Crystal Society and the Holweck Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics and French Physical Society. In 2018, she was named the Times Higher Education Outstanding Research Supervisor of the Year. In 2009 was awarded the OBE for Services to Science, especially her work in the area of equality and diversity in Physics.