Purified sodium montmorillonite (SWy-2) gels of a few percent solids displayed pronounced time-dependent rheological or aging behavior with a long time scale. The aging behavior was characterized by an increasing yield stress with rest time. This increase continued even after a week of rest. An open sponge-like cellular microstructure of the aged gels was captured by cryo-SEM with samples prepared at high pressure. The size of the openings of the cellular structure is small, generally less than 1 μm formed by thin flexible platelet with curling edges. This structure was formed by strong attractive and repulsive forces. The rapid yield stress increase in the early stage of aging is due to rapid bond formation occurring between network platelets and free individual platelet, isolated aggregates, and platelet particles in network with free edges. Over time, all platelets are bonded in the network. During aging, the platelets in the structure would have to adjust continually in response to a net force acting on it by its neighbors. The high concentration of platelets responding to this force imbalance is the cause of the long aging time scale. The operation of the attractive and repulsive forces, and the shape and charge properties of the platelets are responsible for the cellular structure being built. At complete structural recovery, the structure should attain the state of lowest free energy. The repulsive force regulates the development of the microstructure. The aging data of the 3.3 wt % gel were fitted by different aging models.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.