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Phys Rev E ; 95(2-1): 022704, 2017 Feb.
Artigo em Inglês | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28297940


The paradigm of spontaneous symmetry breaking encompasses the breaking of the rotational symmetries O(3) of isotropic space to a discrete subgroup, i.e., a three-dimensional point group. The subgroups form a rich hierarchy and allow for many different phases of matter with orientational order. Such spontaneous symmetry breaking occurs in nematic liquid crystals, and a highlight of such anisotropic liquids is the uniaxial and biaxial nematics. Generalizing the familiar uniaxial and biaxial nematics to phases characterized by an arbitrary point-group symmetry, referred to as generalized nematics, leads to a large hierarchy of phases and possible orientational phase transitions. We discuss how a particular class of nematic phase transitions related to axial point groups can be efficiently captured within a recently proposed gauge theoretical formulation of generalized nematics [K. Liu, J. Nissinen, R.-J. Slager, K. Wu, and J. Zaanen, Phys. Rev. X 6, 041025 (2016)2160-330810.1103/PhysRevX.6.041025]. These transitions can be introduced in the model by considering anisotropic couplings that do not break any additional symmetries. By and large this generalizes the well-known uniaxial-biaxial nematic phase transition to any arbitrary axial point group in three dimensions. We find in particular that the generalized axial transitions are distinguished by two types of phase diagrams with intermediate vestigial orientational phases and that the window of the vestigial phase is intimately related to the amount of symmetry of the defining point group due to inherently growing fluctuations of the order parameter. This might explain the stability of the observed uniaxial-biaxial phases as compared to the yet to be observed other possible forms of generalized nematic order with higher point-group symmetries.