Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

Interaction energy and surface reconstruction between sheets of layered silicates

Hendrik Heinz, The University of Akron


Interactions between two layered silicate sheets, as found in various nanoscale materials, are investigated as a function of sheet separation using molecular dynamics simulation. The model systems are periodic in the xy plane, open in the z direction, and subjected to stepwise separation of the two silicate sheets starting at equilibrium. Computed cleavage energies are 383 mJ /m(2) for K-mica, 133 mJ /m(2) for K-montmorillonite (cation exchange capacity=91), 45 mJ /m(2) for octadecylammonium (C(18))-mica, and 40 mJ /m(2) for C(18)-montmorillonite. These values are in quantitative agreement with experimental data and aid in the molecular-level interpretation. When alkali ions are present at the interface between the silicate sheets, partitioning of the cations between the surfaces is observed at 0.25 nm separation (mica) and 0.30 nm separation (montmorillonite). Originally strong electrostatic attraction between the two silicate sheets is then reduced to 5% (mica) and 15% (montmorillonite). Weaker van der Waals interactions decay within 1.0 nm separation. The total interaction energy between sheets of alkali clay is less than 1 mJ /m(2) after 1.5 nm separation. When C(18) surfactants are present on the surfaces, the organic layer (>0.8 nm) acts as a spacer between the silicate sheets so that positively charged ammonium head groups remain essentially in the same position on the surfaces of the two sheets at any separation. As a result, electrostatic interactions are efficiently shielded and dispersive interactions account for the interfacial energy. The flexibility of the hydrocarbon chains leads to stretching, disorder, and occasional rearrangements of ammonium head groups to neighbor cavities on the silicate surface at medium separation (1.0-2.0 nm). The total interaction energy amounts to less than 1 mJ /m(2) after 3 nm separation.