Subject Category: Organic, carbon-based and soft materials

Citation: NPG Asia Materials (2014) 6, e80; doi:10.1038/am.2013.69
Published online 10 January 2014

Cellulose nanocrystal-based materials: from liquid crystal self-assembly and glass formation to multifunctional thin films

Jan P F Lagerwall1,2, Christina Schütz3,4, Michaela Salajkova4,5, JungHyun Noh1, Ji Hyun Park1, Giusy Scalia1,2 and Lennart Bergström3

  1. 1Nano Science and Technology Program, Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, Seoul National University, Suwon, Korea
  2. 2Advanced Institute of Convergence Technologies, Suwon, Korea
  3. 3Stockholm University, Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry, Stockholm, Sweden
  4. 4Wallenberg Wood Science Centre, Stockholm, Sweden
  5. 5Department of Fiber and Polymer Technology, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Correspondence: Professor JPF Lagerwall, Nano Science and Technology Program, Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, Seoul National University, 864-1 Iui-dong, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do 443-270, Korea or L Bergström, Stockholm University, Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry, Stockholm 106 91, Sweden. E-mail: or

Received 9 August 2013; Revised 24 September 2013; Accepted 8 October 2013



Cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), produced by the acid hydrolysis of wood, cotton or other cellulose-rich sources, constitute a renewable nanosized raw material with a broad range of envisaged uses: for example, in composites, cosmetics and medical devices. The intriguing ability of CNCs to self-organize into a chiral nematic (cholesteric) liquid crystal phase with a helical arrangement has attracted significant interest, resulting in much research effort, as this arrangement gives dried CNC films a photonic band gap. The films thus acquire attractive optical properties, creating possibilities for use in applications such as security papers and mirrorless lasing. In this critical review, we discuss the sensitive balance between glass formation and liquid crystal self-assembly that governs the formation of the desired helical structure. We show that several as yet unclarified observations—some constituting severe obstacles for applications of CNCs—may result from competition between the two phenomena. Moreover, by comparison with the corresponding self-assembly processes of other rod-like nanoparticles, for example, carbon nanotubes and fd virus particles, we outline how further liquid crystal ordering phenomena may be expected from CNCs if the suspension parameters can be better controlled. Alternative interpretations of some unexpected phenomena are provided, and topics for future research are identified, as are new potential application strategies.


cholesteric; gel; glass; liquid crystal; nanocellulose; photonic crystal; self-assembly

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