Liquid crystal refers to the intermediate status of a substance between solid (crystal) and liquid. When crystals with a high level of order in molecular sequence are melted, they generally turn liquid, which has fluidity but no such order at all. However, thin bar-shaped organic molecules, when they are melted, keep their order in a molecular direction although they lose it in molecular positions. In the state in which molecules are in a uniform direction, they also have refractive indices, dielectric constants and other physical characteristics similar to those of crystals, depending on their direction, even though they are liquid. This is why they are called liquid crystal. The diagram below shows the structure of 5CB (4-pentyl-4’-Cyanobiphenyl) as an example of liquid crystal molecules.
An example of a liquid crystal molecule
A liquid crystal display (LCD) has liquid crystal material sandwiched between two sheets of glass. Without any voltage applied between transparent electrodes, liquid crystal molecules are aligned in parallel with the glass surface. When voltage is applied, they change their direction and they turn vertical to the glass surface. They vary in optical characteristics, depending on their orientation. Therefore, the quantity of light transmission can be controlled by combining the motion of liquid crystal molecules and the direction of polarization of two polarizing plates attached to the both outer sides of the glass sheets. LCDs utilize these characteristics to display images.
Working principle of an LCD
An LCD consists of many pixels. A pixel consists of three sub-pixels (Red/Green/Blue, RGB). In the case of Full-HD resolution, which is widely used for smartphones, there are more than six million (1,080 x 1,920 x 3 = 6,220,800) sub-pixels. To activate these millions of sub-pixels a TFT is required in each sub-pixel. TFT is an abbreviation for "Thin Film Transistor". A TFT is a kind of semiconductor device. It serves as a control valve to provide an appropriate voltage onto liquid crystals for individual sub-pixels. A TFT LCD has a liquid crystal layer between a glass substrate formed with TFTs and transparent pixel electrodes and another glass substrate with a color filter (RGB) and transparent counter electrodes. In addition, polarizers are placed on the outer side of each glass substrate and a backlight source on the back side. A change in voltage applied to liquid crystals changes the transmittance of the panel including the two polarizing plates, and thus changes the quantity of light that passes from the backlight to the front surface of the display. This principle allows the TFT LCD to produce full-color images.
Structure of a TFT LCD