Knots and other new topological effects in liquid crystals
Humankind has been obsessed with knots in religion, culture and daily life for millennia while physicists like Gauss, Kelvin and Maxwell involved them in models already centuries ago. Nowadays, colloidal particle can be fabricated to have shapes of knots and links with arbitrary complexity. In liquid crystals, closed loops of singular vortex lines can be knotted by using colloidal particles and laser tweezers, as well as by confining nematic fluids into micrometer-sized droplets with complex topology. Knotted and linked colloidal particles induce knots and links of singular defects, which can be inter-linked (or not) with colloidal particle knots, revealing diversity of interactions between topologies of knotted fields and topologically nontrivial surfaces of colloidal objects. Even more diverse knotted structures emerge in nonsingular molecular alignment and magnetization fields in liquid crystals and colloidal ferromagnets. The topological solitons include hopfions, skyrmions, heliknotons, torons and other spatially localized continuous structures, which are classified based on homotopy theory, characterized by integer-valued topological invariants and often contain knotted or linked preimages, nonsingular regions of space corresponding to single points of the order parameter space. A zoo of topological solitons in liquid crystals, colloids and ferromagnets promises new breeds of information displays and a plethora of data storage, electro-optic and photonic applications. Their particle-like collective dynamics echoes coherent motions in active matter, ranging from crowds of people to schools of fish. This tutorial discusses the state of the art in the field, as well as highlights recent developments and open questions in physics of knotted soft matter.