Ion exchange in atomically thin clays and micas

Yi-chao Zou, Lucas Mogg, Nick Clark, Cihan Bacaksiz, Slavisa Milanovic, Vishnu Sreepal, Guang-ping Hao, Yi-chi Wang, David G. Hopkinson, Roman Gorbachev, Samuel Shaw, Kostya S. Novoselov, Rahul Raveendran-nair, Francois M. Peeters, Marcelo Lozada-hidalgo, Sarah J. Haigh

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The physical properties of clays and micas can be controlled by exchanging ions in the crystal lattice. Atomically thin materials can have superior properties in a range of membrane applications, yet the ion-exchange process itself remains largely unexplored in few-layer crystals. Here we use atomic-resolution scanning transmission electron microscopy to study the dynamics of ion exchange and reveal individual ion binding sites in atomically thin and artificially restacked clays and micas. We find that the ion diffusion coefficient for the interlayer space of atomically thin samples is up to 104 times larger than in bulk crystals and approaches its value in free water. Samples where no bulk exchange is expected display fast exchange at restacked interfaces, where the exchanged ions arrange in islands with dimensions controlled by the moiré superlattice dimensions. We attribute the fast ion diffusion to enhanced interlayer expandability resulting from weaker interlayer binding forces in both atomically thin and restacked materials. This work provides atomic scale insights into ion diffusion in highly confined spaces and suggests strategies to design exfoliated clay membranes with enhanced performance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Materials
Early online date26 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Aug 2021


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