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In nematic liquid crystals the centers of gravity of molecules have no long-range order. The molecules tend to be parallel to a common axis, labeled by a unit vector (director) . Opposite orientations of the director are indistinquishible, even if the molecules are asymmetric. Hence, the nematic order parameter is a tensor: . The transition from the isotropic liquid state to the nematic phase is a first order phase transition.

The word nematic comes from the Greek νημα = thread. It refers to thread-like topological defects observed in nematics. They are called 'disclinations'. Hedgehog is the other type of topological defects in nematics.\n