Generic first-order phase transitions between isotropic and orientational phases with polyhedral symmetries

Ke Liu, JG, and Lode Pollet
published in Phys. Rev. E 97, 012706


Polyhedral nematics are examples of exotic orientational phases that possess a complex internal symmetry, representing highly non-trivial ways of rotational symmetry breaking, and are subject to current experimental pursuits in colloidal and molecular systems. The classification of these phases has been known for a long time, however, their transitions to the disordered isotropic liquid phase remain largely unexplored, except for a few symmetries. In this work, we utilize a recently introduced non-Abelian gauge theory to explore the nature of the underlying nematic-isotropic transition for all three-dimensional polyhedral nematics. The gauge theory can readily be applied to nematic phases with an arbitrary point-group symmetry, including those where traditional Landau methods and the associated lattice models may become too involved to implement owing to a prohibitive order-parameter tensor of high rank or (the absence of) mirror symmetries. By means of exhaustive Monte Carlo simulations, we find that the nematic-isotropic transition is generically first-order for all polyhedral symmetries. Moreover, we show that this universal result is fully consistent with our expectation from a renormalization group approach, as well as with other lattice models for symmetries already studied in the literature. We argue that extreme fine tuning is required to promote those transitions to second order ones. We also comment on the nature of phase transitions breaking the O(3) symmetry in general cases.