Dynamic clay microstructures emerge via ion complexation waves
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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dynamic clay microstructures emerge via ion complexation waves


Clays control carbon, water and nutrient transport in the lithosphere, promote cloud formation5 and lubricate fault slip through interactions among hydrated mineral interfaces. Clay mineral properties are difficult to model because their structures are disordered, curved and dynamic. Consequently, interactions at the clay mineral-aqueous interface have been approximated using electric double layer models based on single crystals of mica and atomistic simulations. We discover that waves of complexation dipoles at dynamically curving interfaces create an emergent long-range force that drives exfoliation and restacking over time- and length-scales that are not captured in existing models. Curvature delocalizes electrostatic interactions in ways that fundamentally differ from planar surfaces, altering the ratio of ions bound to the convex and concave sides of a layer. Multiple-scattering reconstruction of low-dose energy-filtered cryo electron tomography enabled direct imaging of ion complexes and electrolyte distributions at hydrated and curved mineral interfaces with {\aa}ngstrom resolution over micron length scales. Layers exfoliate and restack abruptly and repeatedly over timescales that depend strongly on the counterion identity, demonstrating that the strong coupling between elastic, electrostatic and hydration forces in clays promote collective reorganization previously thought to be a feature only of active matter.

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