Practical method for high-resolution imaging of polymers by low-voltage scanning electron microsopy
A method for preparing and observing clay platelets for size and shape analysis using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was developed. Samples of the clay platelets were prepared by polyelectrolyte-assisted adsorption onto a pyrolytic graphite surface. The use of graphite as a substrate was advantageous because of the low number of secondary electrons emitted from it during imaging by SEM. The resulting low background noise allowed the emission from the 1 nm thick clay sheets to be clearly visualized. Images of centrifuged montmorillonite showed large exfoliated platelets with lateral dimensions between 200 and 600 nm. In contrast, uncentrifuged montmorillonite appeared to contain a large amount of unexfoliated clusters. Although it was not possible to obtain high-quality images of the smaller sheets of Laponite RD, the images of this material did contain size features comparable to the 30 nm2 size reported previously using light scattering, as well as transmission electron and atomic force microscopies.