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Orientational order in gravity dispersed clay colloids: A synchrotron x-ray scattering study of Na fluorohectorite suspensions

DiMasi E, Fossum JO, Gog T, Venkataraman C

64 (6): Art. No. 061704 Part 1 DEC 2001
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Colloidal suspensions of clay particles in aqueous salt solutions make ideal model systems for the study of interactions between plate-shaped particles, due to the ease in tuning their electrostatic repulsion with the concentration of the salt. Numerous get and sol structures are possible, including nematic liquid crystalline order, although only qualitative identification of the latter in clay colloids has been available so far. We present synchrotron x-ray diffraction from gravity dispersed solutions of Na fluorohectorite, a synthetic swelling clay, over a large NaCl concentration range. Our use of liquid scattering techniques allows us to identify regions in which particles reorient from horizontal to vertical alignments in strata coexisting at different heights within the sample. We identify two distinct gel regions characterized by differences in orientational anisotropy and domain size. Our results provide direct evidence for nematic order, as well as unique structural information regarding particle morphology and alignment within each of the colloid phases.

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