The large hydration enthalpy of inorganic interlayer cations sandwiched between moderately negatively charged silicate layers endows to smectites (e.g., hectorite) remarkably rich intracrystalline reactivity compared with most other layered materials. Moreover, they are transparent and inert in most potential suspension media. Upon suspension in water, smectites readily swell. For homogeneous, melt-synthesized smectites, the degree of swelling can be tuned by choice of interlayer cation and charge density of the layer. Because swelling renders the clay stacks more shear labile, the efficiency of exfoliation by applying shearing forces can in turn be adjusted. Certain smectites even spontaneously delaminate into clay platelets of uniform thickness of 1 nm by progressive osmotic swelling. Osmotic swelling can also be applied to produce well-defined double stacks when one starts with ordered, interstratified heterostructures. Nanocomposites made with high-aspect-ratio fillers obtained this way show superior mechanical, flame retardancy, and permeability properties.


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