A team at the Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research at Osaka University has determined the optical parameters of cellulose molecules with exceptional precision.1 They found that cellulose’s intrinsic optical birefringence is high enough to be used in optical displays, such as flexible liquid crystal display (LCD) screens or electronic paper.
Cellulose, a naturally occurring polymer, consists of many long molecular chains. Because of its rigidity and strength, cellulose helps maintain the structural integrity of the cell walls in plants. It makes up about 99% of the nanofibers that comprise nata de coco (a tropical dessert made from coconut water) and helps create its unique and tasty texture.
The team at Osaka University used unidirectionally-aligned cellulose nanofiber films created by stretching hydrogels from nata de coco at various rates. Nata de coco nanofibers allow the cellulose chains to be straight on the molecular level, and this is helpful for the precise determination of the intrinsic birefringence — that is, the maximum birefringence of fully extended polymer chains.