Records of the Liquid Crystals and Advanced Materials Research Group, University of Hull



Admin History:

The Liquid Crystals Research Group at the University of Hull Chemistry Department

The Beginnings - The 1930s-1940s

The beginnings of the Liquid Crystals Research Group at the University of Hull are to be found in the 1930s with the research of Brynmor Jones (later Sir Brynmor Jones, Chancellor of the University of Hull) into liquid crystal materials. Having joined the University of Hull from Sheffield University's chemistry department, Jones began to establish a strong basis for research into this emerging area.

George William Gray - The 1950s-1960s

The mantle of liquid crystal research passed to George William Gray after he joined the Department of Chemistry in 1946 and completed his PhD thesis in 1953. Gray's first papers were published in collaboration with Jones but during the 1950s and 1960s it was his own interest and personal drive that kept research alive at a time when liquid crystals were less than fashionable and could attract little funding. In these decades the focus of Gray's research was the extension of earlier studies of the relationships between molecular structure and liquid crystal properties. This research centred on studies of alkoxy-aromatic carboxylic acids derived from benzene, biphenyl, naphthalene, fluorene, fluorenone and anthracene, and also studies of their methyl, halogeno and nitro substituted analogues. Findings led to the development of working rules surrounding the following: Regular trends in liquid crystal transition temperatures within homologous series; the dependence of nematic thermal stability on molecular breadth and lateral substituent size; the more subtle dependence of smectic thermal stability on a combination of lateral group size and dipole moment; the strong influence of steric twisting by a lateral group in depressing mesophase thermal stability; the role of aromatic core size and type on phase type and phase stability; core shielding effects in diminishing the depressing effects of lateral groups; the important nematic terminal group efficiency order. Believing that his research into liquid crystals must come to an end because of lack of wider interest or industrial application, Gray decided to write up all he knew in the first English book to be published on the subject, his 'Molecular Structure and Properties of Liquid Crystals' (1962).

Discovery of Cyanobiphenyls - The Early 1970s

The publication of this book proved fortuitous as interest into liquid crystals was to revive in the mid-1960s and Gray became recognized as a leading light in this area of research. In October 1970, a Ministry of Defence contract was granted to the Liquid Crystals Research Group at the University of Hull. The research led to the discovery of a group of liquid crystals that became stable at room temperature and were known as cyanobiphenyls. The discovery, made by Gray, Ken Harrison and J.A. Nash, allowed the group at Hull to synthesise stable nematic liquid crystal material which could be used to realise the technological development of LCD. Initially made in 1972, the findings of this discovery weren't published until March 1973.

Funding for Further Research - The 1970s

The profile of the group was elevated with the publication of this research and new blood was attracted to Hull. The group expanded and the names of John Goodby (Hull, AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, Hull, York), David Coates (Hull, Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in Harlow, Research Manager at Merck UK Ltd), Alan Mosley (Hull, Senior Scientist at GEC Hirst Research Laboratories), Stephen Kelly (Hull, Brown Boveri et Cie, F. Hoffmann-La Roche in Switzerland, Hull), and Damien McDonnell (Hull, Senior Scientist in electronics at DRA Malvern) all came to be associated with developments arising from this pioneering research. Other MoD contracts followed and valuable research was undertaken which helped to develop a detailed picture of structure/property relationships in LC systems. This work centred around the following: Better understanding of smectics and their polymorphism consequent upon the synthesis and study of new materials exhibiting SmB, SmF and SmI phases; Rationalisation of smectic nomenclature; Development of new alicyclic mesogens (bicycle-octanes, cubanes); Molecular factors determining SmC formation; Synthesis of Deuterio-mesogens for neutron studies; Development of novel chiral mesogens and high order parameter dyes. In 1979 the dedication of the group was recognized with the award of the Queen's Award for Technological Achievement.

Technological Applications - The 1980s

After the successful research developments of the previous decade, the 1980s saw engagement with more commercially oriented projects in conjunction with collaborators at RSRE Malvern, BDH Chemicals (later Merck Ltd UK) and various other universities including Oxford and Durham. Research contracts around liquid crystal polymers, Langmuir-Blodgett thin films, and ferroelectric LC displays helped to develop industrial applications for liquid crystal materials,

Latter Years of the Liquid Crystals Research Group - 1990 Onwards

In 1990 Professor Gray retired from the University and Professor John Goodby inherited leadership of the group ensuring it continued to develop its research focus. In 2000 a spin-out company was established under the name of Kingston Chemicals to provide a commercial complement to the academic research being undertaken at the University, and to manufacture liquid crystals for industrial and research applications. In 2005 the University of Hull became a Royal Society of Chemistry 'Historic Landmark' in recognition of the significance of its LC research. In March 2013 the university ran the 'LCD40' campaign to raise awareness of Hull's integral role in the development of LCD technology. With the work of Professor Stephen Kelly and Mary O'Neill research into organic light-emitting diodes developed and in 2008 a second spin-out company associated with the group was founded under the name of Polar OLED. By 2014 the Hull Liquid Crystal Research Group had come to be known as the Liquid Crystals and Photonics Group. Research had been expanded to include investigation of Organic Light Emitting Diodes and their application to the improvement of LCD technology. The group's membership included Professor Stephen Kelly, Professor Mary O'Neill, Professor Georg Mehl, Dr Mike Hird, Dr Rob Lewis, Dr Ali Adawi, and Dr Neil Kemp.

George William Gray (1926-2013) - Pioneer in the Area of Liquid Crystal Research

Early Years

Born 4 Sep 1926 in Denny, Scotland, he was educated at Denny Public School before undertaking his undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow.

Academic Career

Upon graduating from Glasgow in 1946, financial constraints meant he had to find work and so he found employment as a laboratory demonstrator at the University of Hull in 1946. In 1947 he was made an assistant lecturer and began his PhD research. In 1953 he completed his doctoral thesis. In the same year he married his wife Marjorie and they went on to have 3 daughters, Caroline, Veronica and Elizabeth. He undertook much of his early research in a chemistry department led by Brynmor Jones when the University was still accredited by University College London and was known as University College Hull. He was to remain at the University for most of his working life, advancing through to the highest positions in the Chemistry department. In 1949 he was promoted to lecturer and then to senior lecturer in 1960. He was made a Reader in Organic Chemistry in 1964 and then a Professor of Organic Chemistry in 1978 following his qualification as a Chartered Chemist (C Chem) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC) in 1972. In 1984 he was appointed to the G F Grant Established Chair and Professorship of Chemistry, and was to serve his final two years at the University from 1989 as Head of the Department of Chemistry.

Consultancy Work

After retiring from the university in 1990 he was appointed as a Research Coordinator at Merck Ltd UK in which capacity he worked until August 1993. He continued to work as a Research Consultant for the company from September 1993 until his retirement. He was also asked to consult on various funding and grant application committees throughout his later career. This consultancy and advisory role included working with various bodies such as the Centre for Self Organising Molecular Systems, University of Leeds (from 1993), Hallcrest Ltd Poole, UK, and Chicago, USA (from 1996), and Electronics Sector, DERA, Malvern, UK (from 1998).

Professional Activities

He was highly active in his chosen field and his professional activities were consequently numerous. He worked as UK editor of Molecular Crystals and Liquid Crystals (1979-1991) and the International Journal of Liquid Crystals (from 1992). He was also a member of various societies, councils and forums including the 21st Century Materials Committee of the Science and Engineering Research Council (for 5 years until 1993), the Yorkshire Section of the Association for Science Education (1984-1985), the Chemistry Division of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1993), the Physical Sciences Sub-Committee of the UGC undertaking University Research Selectivity Rating (1984-1990), the Displays Committee of the Alvey/DTI Directorate (1984-1989), the Physical Sciences Sub-Committee of the Royal Society (1984-1988), the International Liquid Crystal Society, the British Liquid Crystal Society, the UK Southern Science and Technology Forum (from 1993), the Southern Science and Technology Forum (1996-2000), and the East Dorset Section of Southern Science and Technology Forum (1996-2000). In later years he was closely involved in the establishment of the Southampton Liquid Crystal Institute involving research groups from departments of chemistry, mathematics and physics, being the Chairman of the Advisory Board (1990s). In addition to this work, Professor Gray also served as an external examiner for first degrees (CNAA) Trent Polytechnic for 4 years, for first degrees The Queen's University Belfast for 5 years, for Musgrave Awards of the Queen's University Belfast from 1988, and for PhD degrees in over 35 Universities and Polytechnics. He was also an external assessor for the appointment of new professors in 5 universities, and supervised the research of 50 research students on MSc and PhD degrees 1950-1990.


After a lifetime of work his research publications and patents numbered over 360. His major works include a book Molecular Structure and Properties of Liquid Crystals published in 1962 (the first book on the subject to be published in English), the article detailing his most famous discovery of cyanobiphenyls 'New Family of Nematic Liquid Crystals for Displays' (with K. Harrison and J. Nash) published in 1973, 'A Liquid Crystal Mixture for Use in Smectic Liquid Crystal Display Devices' (with A. Mosley) published in 1976, 'Liquid Crystal Compounds Incorporating the trans-1, 4-Substituted Cyclohexane Ring System (with D. McDonnell)' published in 1979, 'The Synthesis and Transition Temperatures of Some 4,4"-dialkyl-and 4,4"-aldoxyalkyl-1,1': 4',1"-terphenyls with 2, 3 or 2', 3'-difluoro substituents and of their biphenyl analogues' (with M. Hird, D. Lacey and K. Toyne) published in 1989, and 'Synthesis and Properties of Some Novel Ferroelectric Materials-Hosts and Dopants' (with M. Hird, D. Lacey and K. Toyne) published in 1990, and the co-edited three volume Handbook of Liquid Crystals published by VCH.

Awards and Honours

His long career, characterised by dedication, hard work and innovation, was recognised by the award of various honours. As well as numerous honorary doctorates and memberships of scientific societies (including being made a member of the Royal Society), he was awarded a CBE in 1991, and was senior scientist when the Queen's Award for Technological Advancement was given on two occasions (once whilst at the University of Hull in 1979 and once whilst at Merck Ltd UK in 1992). He was also asked to be the Clifford Patterson Prize Lecturer by the Royal Society in 1985, was the Leverhulme Gold Medallist of the Royal Society in 1987, and was the Kyoto International Gold Medallist and Prize Laureate in Advances Technology in 1995. Local honours awarded to Professor Gray include an honorary doctorate from the University of Hull, presidency of Kingston Chemicals Ltd in 1999, and the naming of one of Hull Train's 2005 Class 222 'Pioneer' trains 'Professor George Gray'.

At the heart of an international liquid crystal community, he often came into contact with other leading specialists in the field. In addition to the group working at Hull throughout his long career, he included amongst his friends and colleagues such names as Professor S. Chandrasekhar, Professor G. Scherowsky, Professor E. Chiellini, Dr P. Cladis, Professor Harry Coles, Professor Alan Leadbetter, Professor Duncan Bruce, Professor Sven Lagerwall, and Professor Cyril Hilsum.

Personal Interests and Retirement

In his spare time his interests included gardening and philately (Victorian and Edwardian UK). After a long and successful career, supported by a loving wife and children, this well respected man died on 12 May 2013.


Papers, files and objects relating to the work of the Liquid Crystal Research Group at the University of Hull Chemistry Department. The group's work focused on research into liquid crystals, their synthesis, properties and industrial applications in the period 1950s-1990s. The group was responsible for the pioneering discovery of cyanobiphenyl liquid crystals in 1972 which allowed for the development of LCD technology. The core of the collection is composed of material from Professor George W. Gray as head of the group and his successor Professor John W. Goodby.

The collection contains correspondence, work books, PhD theses, teaching files, research files and reports, notes, correspondence, lecture acetates, article reprints, books, patents, photographs and slides, audio-visual material, and photomicroscopic artwork. In addition to the usual archival material there are also a small amount of objects in the collection including solid state chemical samples from the 1950s labelled by Gray in his early years at the University of Hull, microscopes and equipment used by Gray and Goodby, sample electronic products using LCD technology sent to Gray by industrial partners for demonstration purposes, the Queens Award for Technology shield awarded to the University for the groups research into liquid crystals in 1979, the first laptop used by the group, and a paper weight marking the 20th anniversary of a student conference series established by Professor Gray.