With the maturation of the information display field, liquid-crystal materials research is undergoing a modern-day renaissance. Devices and configurations based on liquid-crystal materials are being developed for spectroscopy, imaging and microscopy, leading to new techniques for optically probing biological systems. Biosensors fabricated with liquid-crystal materials can allow label-free observations of biological phenomena. Liquid-crystal polymers are starting to be used in biomimicking colour-producing structures, lenses and muscle-like actuators. New areas of application in the realms of biology and medicine are stimulating innovation in basic and applied research into these materials.