Electric birefringence spectroscopy of montmorillonite particles
Electric birefringence (EB) of suspensions of anisotropic particles can be considered an electrokinetic phenomenon in a wide sense, as both liquid motions and polarization of the electrical double layer (EDL) of the particles participate in the process of particle orientation under the applied field. The EB spectrum can be exploited for obtaining information on the dimensions, average value and anisotropy of the surface conductivity of the particles, and the concentration and Maxwell–Wagner polarization of the EDLs. It is thus a highly informative technique, applicable to non-spherical particles. In this paper, we investigate the birefringent response of plate-like montmorillonite particles as a function of the frequency and amplitude of the applied AC electric field, for different compositions (pH, ionic strength, particle concentration) of the suspensions. The transient electric birefringence (i.e., the decay of the refractive index anisotropy with time when the field is switched off) is used for estimating the average dimensions of the particle axes, by modeling it as an oblate spheroid. The obtained values are very similar to those deduced from electron microscopy determinations. The frequency spectra show a very distinct behaviour at low (on the order of a few Hz) and high (up to several MHz) frequencies: the α and Maxwell–Wagner–O'Konski relaxations, characteristic of EDLs, are detected at frequencies above 10 kHz, and they can be well explained using electrokinetic models for the polarization of EDLs. At low frequencies, in contrast, the birefringence changes to negative, an anomalous response meaning that the particles tend to orient with their symmetry axis parallel to the field. This anomaly is weaker at basic pH values, high ionic strengths and low concentrations. The results can be explained by considering the polydispersity of real samples: the fastest particles redistribute around the slowest ones, inducing a hydrodynamic torque opposite to that of the field, in close similarity with the results previously described for the mixtures of anisometric particles with small amounts of spherical nanoparticles.