Most solid surfaces, in particular clay minerals and rock surfaces, acquire a surface charge upon exposure to an aqueous environment due to adsorption and/or desorption of ionic species. Macroscopic techniques such as titration and electrokinetic measurements are commonly used to determine the surface charge and ζζ-potential of these surfaces. However, because of the macroscopic averaging character these techniques cannot do justice to the role of local heterogeneities on the surfaces. In this work, we use dynamic atomic force microscopy (AFM) to determine the distribution of surface charge on the two (gibbsite-like and silica-like) basal planes of kaolinite nanoparticles immersed in aqueous electrolyte with a lateral resolution of approximately 30 nm. The surface charge density is extracted from force–distance curves using DLVO theory in combination with surface complexation modeling. While the gibbsite-like and the silica-like facet display on average positive and negative surface charge values as expected, our measurements reveal lateral variations of more than a factor of two on seemingly atomically smooth terraces, even if high resolution AFM images clearly reveal the atomic lattice on the surface. These results suggest that simple surface complexation models of clays that attribute a unique surface chemistry and hence homogeneous surface charge densities to basal planes may miss important aspects of real clay surfaces.
Kumar, N., Zhao, C., Klaassen, A. H., van den Ende, H. T. M., Mugele, F. G., & Sîretanu, I. (2016). Characterization of the surface charge distribution on kaolinite particles using high resolution atomic force microscopy. Geochimica et cosmochimica acta, 175, 100-112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2015.12.003