Microscopic and Spectroscopic Methods for Probing the Clay Water Interface

Date of Thesis



Clay minerals have a fundamental importance in many processes in soils and sediments such as the bioavailability of nutrients, water retention, the adsorption of common pollutants, and the formation of an impermeable barrier upon swelling. Many of the properties of clay minerals are due to the unique environment present at the clay mineral/water interface. Traditional techniques such as X-ray diffraction (XRD) and absorption isotherms have provided a wealth of information about this interface but have suffered from limitations. The methods and results presented herein are designed to yield new experimental information about the clay mineral/water interface.A new method of studying the swelling dynamics of clay minerals was developed using in situ atomic force microscopy (AFM). The preliminary results presented here demonstrate that this technique allows one to study individual clay mineral unit layers, explore the natural heterogeneities of samples, and monitor swelling dynamics of clay minerals in real time. Cation exchange experiments were conducted monitoring the swelling change of individual nontronite quasi-crystals as the chemical composition of the surrounding environment was manipulated several times. A proof of concept study has shown that the changes in swelling are from the exchange of interlayer cations and not from the mechanical force of replacing the solution in the fluid cell. A series of attenuated total internal reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR) experiments were performed to gain a better understanding of the organization of water within the interlayer region of two Fe-bearing clay minerals. These experiments made use of the Subtractive Kramers-Kronig (SKK) Transform and the calculation of difference spectra to obtain information about interfacial water hidden within the absorption bands of bulk water. The results indicate that the reduction of structural iron disrupts the organization of water around a strongly hydrated cation such as sodium as the cation transitions from an outer-sphere complex with the mineral surface to an inner-sphere complex. In the case of a less strongly hydrated cation such as potassium, reduction of structural iron actually increases the ordering of water molecules at the mineral surface. These effects were only noticed with the reduction of iron in the tetrahedral sheet close to the basal surface where the increased charge density is localized closer to the cations in the interlayer.


Atomic Force Microscopy, Attenuated Total Internal Reflectance Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, Geochemistry

Access Type

Masters Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Master of Science



First Advisor

Molly M.McGuire

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