Polymer films containing droplets of nematic liquid crystal form an important class of new electro-optic light valves and displays. While previous work has shown that the nematic droplet size is an important factor in the electro-optic properties of these films, here we report that the droplet shape is equally important in determing the electro-optics of the film. Electron micrographs show that for films using polyvinyl alcohol as the polymeric binder the cavities formed by the polymer matrix are oblate in nature, and aligned with the minor axis perpendicular to the film plane. In oblate cavities the elastic-deformation free energy is minimized when the director field in the droplet is aligned along a major axis of the spheroid; the electric field performs work on the nematic in reorienting the nematic into a higher-energy state, equal to the elastic-free-energy difference between the two configurations. Calculations and experiment are used to estimate the elastic and electric field free-energy-density changes that occur upon reorientation of the nematic droplet. The general agreement between these two values is used to indicate that droplet shape anisotropy is a major factor in determining the electro- optic properties of these films.
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