Electrophoresis is a well known technique for separating molecules or particles based on their electric charge and the drag that they suffer on moving through a liquid carrier-medium. Now, Oleg Lavrentovich and colleagues of Kent State University in Ohio have found a new way to do it: by using liquid crystals as the carrier.

The intrinsic anisotropy of the liquid crystals opens up a range of new phenomena. These include drift velocities that are quadratic in the applied voltage as opposed to linear, which makes it possible to use alternating current and avoid electrolysis. It also offers the possibility to transport both charged and neutral particles, with the necessary asymmetry being provided by the medium itself. In addition to applications in chemical and biological or medical analyses, this also opens up a whole new range of microfluidic applications.