Most of the structures of clay minerals are based on composite layers of (Si, Al)-O tetrahedra and Al or (Mg, Fe)-O octahedra stacked on one another in various ways. In many cases, however, the details of these structures cannot be established in conventional ways because of the lack of suitable crystals for structure determination, and those of micas to which they are structurally related are frequently referred to for understanding the average structures of clay minerals. Although micas are commonly found in nature as large crystals with well-developed platy habit, in some occurrences they are less well crystallized and they then overlap in many respects the more strictly defined clay minerals.
By means of electron microscopy, the understanding of clay minerals has been extended by direct observation of particle shapes and sizes. Further understanding of their physico-chemical properties has come from investigation of the various imperfections exhibited by crystals of clay minerals. The existence of defects and disorderings in the layer structures of clay minerals has been suggested mainly by X-ray investigations during the past twenty years and the interpretation of these observations has been based mainly on the profiles of X-ray powder reflections. Without single crystals, however, considerable ambiguity is inevitably involved in the interpretation, especially when a natural clay mineral is investigated. More direct observation of the defect structures is possible to some extent by transmission electron microscopy, and the understanding of the averaged properties as observed by the X-ray powder method can be complemented by the electron-microscopic observations.
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Clay minerals occur most frequently in a state too finely divided for satisfactory observation with the best optical microscopes, or for study with single-crystal X-ray techniques. The higher resolution made possible by electron-optical instruments can therefore be put to good use in the investigation of the morphologies and crystal structures of clays. It is the intention of this monograph to summarize achievements to date, to indicate problems that have perhaps not received the attention they deserve, and, as a result, to suggest lines of investigation that might prove fruitful. The first two chapters explain in some detail the various types of electron-optical equipment that are currently available, the methods of operating them to the best advantage, and interpretation of the results. The techniques for preparation of specimens are reviewed in the third chapter, with emphasis on those most suitable for clay minerals. With the exception of the last chapter, on practical applications of electron-optical methods, each subsequent chapter deals with studies on a particular class of clay minerals. Some chapters include detailed descriptions of specimen preparation or other techniques that have been developed by the authors to resolve specific problems peculiar to the minerals dealt with in those chapters. Electron microscopy and other electron-optical techniques have been used, alone or in conjunction with other methods, to investigate problems that have proved otherwise insoluble. Nevertheless, these techniques have their limitations, which must always be borne in mind, as results can occasionally be misleading. It therefore seems appropriate, at this stage, to review the methods of specimen preparation and examination, and to attempt to assess their value for investigation of clays.